July/August 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Americans United and its allies in May worked to combat “faith-based” job bias in a congressional bill designed to stamp out domestic abuse against women.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorizes programs that protect women from domestic abuse. The Senate version of the bill bars all VAWA contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. The same language was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and sent to the House floor.

There it ran into a snag when Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.) and other opponents of the Senate language used a procedural move to strip the provision from the legislation. With the change, faith-based organizations would be permitted to take federal VAWA funds and discriminate in hiring on religious grounds.

Americans United has fought religiously based employment discrimination in other programs. Along with 45 other members of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), AU sent a letter to all House members voicing objections to this discriminatory measure

The letter explains that amending the bill would permit religious organizations “to take VAWA funds and use those funds to discriminate against a qualified individual based on nothing more than his or her religious beliefs.”  (Americans United also sent a separate letter to all House members expressing opposition to the provision.)

During debate, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) submitted the CARD letter for the Congressional Record and stated that she agreed with the positions expressed.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) also spoke out.

“We should not pass a bill,” he said, “that allows a person applying for a job paid for with federal funds to be discriminated against based on religion.”

Despite the objections, the House voted 222-205 to approve VAWA with the discriminatory language intact. The measure now moves to a conference committee, which will attempt to iron out the differences between the Senate and House versions.

AU and CARD will continue efforts to remove government-funded religious discrimination from the final bill.