A group of 130 organizations sent a letter to President Obama asking for a review of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), worried that a 2007 Justice Department memo allows for federally funded religious organizations to discriminate in the hiring process.
The letter requests President Obama to direct Attorney General Loretta Lynch to reevalute a 2007 memo from the Justice Department that interprets the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as allowing for faith-based groups to be exempt from nondiscrimination laws.
“RFRA was intended to provide protection for free exercise rights... to federal laws that substantially burden religious exercise. RFRA was not intended to create blanket exemptions to laws that protect against discrimination," the organizations contend in the letter to Obama.
One of the group’s main concerns is that the memo permits faith-based groups to discriminate in hiring while receiving grants from the federal government.
The memo permits “the grantee to discriminate in hiring with taxpayer funds without regard to the government’s compelling interest in prohibiting such discrimination,” the letter asserts.
According to a blog post by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a group that advocates for the separation of church and state, the memo has been interpreted to refuse medical care to sexual abuse victims and LGBT employees.
However, Derek Gaubatz of the Federalist Society asserted in a 2011 article that the decision on whether to reverse the 2007 memo or not "will affect the ability of faith-based providers who engage in religious hiring preferences to compete with secular and other faith-based organizations for federal social service grants.”
Organizations that signed the letter to President Obama include the American Civil Liberties Union, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Catholics for Choice, Family Equality Council, Muslims for Progressive Values, NAACP, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, among others.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a federal law that ensures the protection of religious freedom and had been enacted in 1993.