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Keep religious hiring exemption, Orthodox groups urge Obama

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Orthodox Jewish groups joined a letter pushing back against an appeal supported by other Jewish groups that urged President Obama to reinstate bans against religion-based hiring.

"Religious hiring by religious organizations is not a deviation from the great civil rights legacy of the United States but rather a distinctive and vital feature of it," said the letter sent July 12 to the White House. "Vital because it protects the religious freedom of religious organizations."

The letter was signed by at least four Orthodox Jewish groups, including Agudath Israel of America and the National Council of Young Israel, among more than 40 religious organizations.

Earlier appeals to Obama to reinstate the ban on discriminatory hiring for religious groups have come from the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, which among its more than 50 groups includes the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Reform movement.

President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order in 1965 prohibiting discrimination in government contracts. In 2002, President George W. Bush amended the order by signing an exemption for religious organizations.

Opponents of the exemption say it allows groups to discriminate in areas where religious agreement with the hiring body should not be paramount — for instance, allowing a conservative Christian church to fire a gay accountant.

Supporters say a total ban would force Roman Catholics, for instance, to ordain women priests against the Church’s dictates.

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