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"People should not be forced to choose between their faiths and their jobs..."

But if you are forced to choose, the Justice Department might side with your boss

by Jane Hunter,, February 27, 2007

This afternoon, Department of Justice spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson responded by email to my telephone call requesting comment on the First Freedom program. Our email exchange follows, starting with my initial question to her.

JH: 1. On page 18 of the First Freedom report, it says "People should be hired or not hired because of their skills and merit, not because of their faith. And people should not be forced to choose between their faiths and their jobs." Yet, the DOJ defended the Salvation Army when it made a Jewish employee's continued employment conditional on signing a Christian credo. How does the DOJ explain this?

2. Will the DOJ defend other organizations that insist that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or atheists sign a Christian credo as a condition of employment?

You are welcome to respond by email or by phone.

CM: Hi Jane,

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the case you reference involving the Salvation Army - I assume that the government's participation was in the form of an amicus brief.

On page 13 of the report - right below the quote you reference - it says that Section 702 of Title VII protects the independence and autonomy of religious institutions by permitting them to consider religion in hiring decisions.

Based on this portion of the statute, the Department's role in the case you reference would be entirely consistent with the law.

The Department has a strong record of defending the religious rights of individuals of every religion, and we will continue to enforce the laws that ensure that religious rights are protected.


JH: Thank you, Cynthia,

To follow up, if you don't mind:

The employee who sued in the Salvation Army case (mentioned in the First Freedom Report) was a social worker working in a government funded social service program. She had worked there for many years when they fired her, a Jew, for not signing a Christian profession of faith.

Knowing that, would you care to revise your comment?

CM: Hi Jane,

I think that you are talking about Lown v. the Salvation Army - and an explanation of the Department's action and legal argument in that case is clearly laid out. As the report says, the Division also brings cases to ensure that Title VII is properly interpreted. Again, I would cite Section 702 of Title VII protects the independence and autonomy of religious institutions by permitting them to consider religion in hiring decisions.

The report highlights many cases in which the religious rights of individuals, including those of the Jewish faith, have been defended by the Department. From 2001-2006, the Civil Rights Division's record of enforcement has increased significantly.


JH: Thank you again, Cynthia

However, Ms Lown wasn't being hired. She was fired after many years employment, for declining to sign a Christian profession of faith.

Wouldn't you think, then, that her case would fit more clearly with the cases of victims of religious discrimination which the Division defended?

I appreciate your consideration,

CM: Hi Jane,

I'm happy to track down and send you a copy of the court's decision in this case, which supports an existing Congressionally-passed statute signed into law during the Johnson Administration.


JH: Thank you, Cynthia, but I've seen the decision, consider it unfortunate (as do many advocates of church-state separation), and have wondered whether the DOJ's brief encouraged the decision.

Your responses, albeit generous, leave me with conclusion that if my private sector employer interferes with my religious observance, the DOJ would go to bat for me. But if I, a Jew, am asked by my long-time social service agency employer to sign onto a belief in Jesus Christ as a condition of keeping my job, the Justice Department would help that employer, not me.

That raises another question: All the cases in the First Freedom Report in which the Division went to bat for a party wishing to impose its religious beliefs on fellow citizens in the public (or publicly funded) square involve right-wing Christian groups wishing to impose their doctrines (inappropriately, many would say). Would the Civil Rights Division go to court for a Jewish or a Muslim social service agency that required its long-time Christian employees to sign a Jewish or Muslim credo, in effect disavowing their faith in Jesus?


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