NDAA's Government-Funded Discrimination Amendment Passes House Armed Services Committee

If you were to guess that one of the most controversial provisions found in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would be about national defense, you’d be wrong.  During the House Armed Services Committee’s marathon mark-up of the NDAA on Wednesday, Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) successfully offered a sweeping amendment that would sanction taxpayer-funded hiring discrimination.

Under the Russell amendment, a faith-based organization could take taxpayer money to perform a social service for the public—like run the local homeless shelter or work with at-risk youth—and then only hire people who belong to the organization’s denomination or profess the same beliefs to work there. Religious hospitals and schools that get government grants or contracts could do the same. The result: government-funded jobs will be denied to qualified candidates because they are of the “wrong religion.”

And even though this is a bill dealing with the Department of Defense, this provision wouldn’t just apply there. Rather, it would apply to each and every contract and grant entered into by every single federal agency.

The provision could undo a multitude of existing laws and policies that prohibit hiring discrimination—and perhaps even those that protect the beneficiaries of social services against discrimination—on the basis of race, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity, and more. This includes explicit LGBT employment non-discrimination protections contained in President Obama’s 2014 Executive Order regarding federal contracting.

If you think this provision is outrageous, you are not alone.  We joined forty-one other national organizations—ranging from the National Council of Churches and the United Methodist Church–General Board of Church and Society, the NAACP and the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, to the Anti-Defamation League and HRC—in a letter to ask members of the Committee to reject the measure. We all agree that the government should never fund discrimination. And, at the hearing, Committee members, including Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA); Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA); Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA); and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), spoke against the measure.

This about sums it up:  

Ultimately, however, the Committee adopted the measure with a 33-29 vote.

But, the fight isn’t over. We will continue to oppose this provision as the NDAA proceeds though the House and Senate.