White House “Faith Czar” James Towey has been traveling the nation assuring religious groups that the Bush administration will protect their right to receive tax funding while engaging in employment discrimination.
In August, Towey met with leaders of Catholic Charities of Maine, telling the group that the administration would seek to override local ordinances that ban discrimination in job hiring.
“Sometimes you see local governments that bully faith-based organizations and basically tell them that they have to compromise their religious beliefs and tenets if they want to partner with government,” Towey told the Portland Press Herald. “That may be their prerogative when it’s state and local money, but when it’s federal money, that raises a whole different set of issues.”
The controversy has resonated in Maine, where some communities have ordinances that ban private groups from discriminating in hiring if they accept tax aid. Although conservatives talk a lot about the importance of local control, the White House seems determined to override those laws under its “faith-based” initiative.
In Portland, city leaders have refused to allocate federal funds to Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army because the organizations refuse to comply with a municipal ordinance that requires contractors to provide certain benefits to employees’ domestic partners.
Former Portland mayor James Cloutier said the city’s policy is fair because it treats all groups equally.
“We don’t have to be concerned about the fairness with which we treat religious and religiously sponsored organizations,” he said. “That’s because we have one rule that applies to everybody: You can’t practice discrimination.”
Towey has made visits to religious charities in New York and California recently, pushing the administration line.
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said Towey is promoting tax-funded discrimination.
“It is not bullying to tell a group that it has to obey the same laws as everyone else,” Lynn told the Associated Press. “Mr. Towey, although he talks about a level playing field, in fact wants to require secular groups to abide by civil rights laws but not religious groups. Frankly, they all should abide by basic principles of fairness and equality that we find in the Constitution, if they get federal funds.”
Bush continues to plug the faith-based initiative as well. Addressing the Knights of Columbus during a Dallas gathering in August, the president announced the release of $43 million in funding through the “Compassion Capital” program. He praised the Catholic men’s group, calling them “soldiers in the armies of compassion” and assured them that they “have a friend in this administration.”