Congress Should Scrap Government-Funded Discrimination From Defense Bill

Image by Vladone/Getty Images

Image by Vladone/Getty Images

Congress came back to town last week. Yet, word on Capitol Hill is that Republican leadership is hoping to go home again to campaign as early as next week. That means the behind-the-scenes work on must-pass legislation is moving into high gear. The first order of business is negotiating a funding bill that has to pass before October 1 to avoid a government shutdown.  At the same time, a group of bipartisan Representatives and Senators are meeting to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which might also come to the floor in the coming days.

You might recall that, despite the bipartisan effort to strip this provision from the bill, the House version of NDAA contains a troubling provision that would allow taxpayer-funded employment discrimination under all federal grants and contracts. There is no such provision in the Senate version, making it one of the issues on the table for negotiators who are trying to hammer out a bill acceptable to both the House and Senate.    

There’s no question that lawmakers should scrap this discriminatory provision. It would allow a faith-based organization to take taxpayer money to perform a social service for the public—like running the local homeless shelter or working with at-risk youth—and then only hire people who belong to the organization’s denomination or profess the same beliefs. It would allow religious hospitals and schools that get government grants or contracts to do the same. The result: government-funded jobs will be denied to qualified candidates because they belong to the “wrong religion” or don’t live according to an organization’s religious tenets. 

But this isn’t just about whether you belong to the right church or synagogue, which is clearly wrong. Under this provision, a religiously affiliated contractor or grantee could also fire a woman from a job funded with taxpayer dollars who is pregnant and unmarried; refuse to hire a man because he is married to a same-sex partner; or dismiss a woman who lives with her boyfriend.

Fortunately, dozens of members of Congress, including Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), are urging their colleagues to remove the provision.  As is the Obama Administration. We’ve added our voice too. Along with our friends at 90 religious, education, and civil rights organizations, we’ve sent a letter urging the lawmakers negotiating the NDAA to strike this provision in the final bill, because “effective government collaboration with faith-based groups does not require the sanctioning of federally funded religious discrimination.”  As we’ve said before at PTN, religion is no excuse to harm others—and especially not when taxpayers are footing the bill.

In the rush to get out the door, lawmakers have some important decisions to make.  This one is easy. Taxpayer-funded employment discrimination has no place in the NDAA.

Follow Samantha Sokol online at @samsokol19