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ADL raps faith-based order on constitutional safeguards

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League criticized the executive order establishing the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

In a letter Thursday to President Obama, the ADL said the order failed to address "critical constitutional safeguards."

"Especially in the context of your vision of an expanded, better-funded faith-based initiative, we are deeply troubled by the prospect that taxpayer money will likely fund religious discrimination in employment decisions involving the people who deliver faith-based social services," Glen Lewy and Abraham Foxman, the national chair and national director, wrote.

"During the campaign, you stated that the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative lacked essential safeguards against proselytizing and discrimination. Yet the failure to establish new standards by which the Justice Department will judge whether an organization is entitled to an exemption to the religious nondiscrimination laws means that the old, inadequate safeguards remain the legal standards."

The two leaders wrote that the executive order’s provision for a Justice Department review of contentious legal issues on a case-by-case basis would be insufficient because it "misses the opportunity for prophylactic guidance and presidential leadership against employment discrimination by faith-based grant recipients."

The letter proposes a variety of safeguards that Lewy and Foxman say should be established for the White House’s faith-based office, such as ensuring a "clear separation in time and location between government-funded social welfare activities and an organization’s religious activities" and offering "secular alternatives" to social services provided by religious institutions. The letter notes that many of the safeguards it recommends are either "not now required" or there is "insufficient monitoring for compliance."

Supporters of the funding of faith-based social service groups say that taking religion into account is not discrimination but essential to maintaining the religious character of those organizations.

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