Bush Administration’s Orwellian Logic: Anti-Gay Discrimination is ‘Civil Rights and Religious Liberty’

June 25, 2003

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force condemned the Bush Administration's position paper on the Faith-Based Initiative recently sent to Capitol Hill and reported in today's Washington Post. The position paper argues that faith-based service providers receiving public money should be able to discriminate in hiring for jobs funded by federal and state funds. It explicitly says that these providers should be able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and portrays state and local gay rights laws as a hindrance to serving the needs of African American and Latino urban poor.

Statement by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman:

"As people around the country celebrate Gay Pride, and on the eve of the Supreme Court's historic ruling on the Texas law criminalizing homosexuality, the Bush Administration is telling America that it's perfectly fine to discriminate against gay people. Equally offensive, the Administration is portraying anti-gay discrimination as 'civil rights and religious liberty,' and portrays laws prohibiting anti-gay discrimination as a threat to meeting the needs of poor people of color.

We consider this a declaration of war on the civil rights protections our community has won through hard-fought battles in many states and hundreds of municipalities across the nation over the last thirty years.

This Orwellian language is outrageous, it's un-American, and it's unconstitutional. The Bush Administration is misrepresenting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act - which allows religious groups to discriminate in hiring, but not with public money. Two lesbians and a straight Jewish man have already been discriminated against by faith-based providers using state funds in Kentucky and Georgia. If this goes through, gay people and others who are unpopular with some faiths could be denied jobs in certain professions in entire states or regions of the country. We cannot allow this to happen in our country.

What religious groups do with their own money is their business. But when they use our tax dollars and then say they won't hire us for jobs that we help fund, that is unacceptable. Fair-minded people understand this basic distinction.

We call on Congress to stand up for American values and reject this policy of discrimination. How can we claim to promote human rights around the world when we are attacking basic rights at home?"

The Bush Administration's memo, (must have PDF viewer to download) argues that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act allows religious entities to discriminate in hiring. While such discrimination is allowed with private funds, whether or not it's legal for faith-based groups to discriminate in employment funded by state or federal dollars has not been established.

Civil rights and civil liberties groups ranging from the NAACP to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way believe that the Title VII exemption cannot constitutionally apply to jobs that are funded by the federal government.

According to these groups, the Title VII exemption is constitutionally limited to privately funded positions. Indeed, although the Supreme Court has not definitively ruled on this issue, at least one federal court has held that it would be unconstitutional for a religious institution to invoke the Title VII exemption for a federally-funded job. See Dodge v. Salvation Army, 1989 WL 53857 (S.D. Miss. Jan. 9, 1989).

The Bush memo justifies its encouragement of discrimination by characterizing this policy as "safeguard[ing] the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that partner with the Federal government, so that they may respond with compassion to those in need in our country." It portrays state and local nondiscrimination laws as "uncertain regulatory waters" that are "simply too difficult and costly for many faith-based organizations to navigate..." It ignores the cost of discrimination to those who are not even considered for employment, or who are fired, because they are the "wrong" sexual orientation, religion, gender or race. It says that forcing religious groups to hire gay people would be like forcing Planned Parenthood to hire people who are anti-choice and anti-birth control. In fact, being gay is not a matter of ideology or belief; it is a matter of who people are.

The Bush Administration memo also portrays gay rights laws as a hindrance to meeting the service needs of low-income people: "This hodgepodge of conflicting approaches has led to confusion... and a consequent reluctance by many faith-based groups to seek support from Federally funded programs... The real losers are the homeless, the addicted, and others who are denied access to a range of effective social service providers, including faith-based providers."

Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston makes a similar claim: "Faith-based organizations must be protected from the kind of discrimination that would prevent us from hiring the people who are best equipped to fulfill our mission and do the work...This discrimination is a violation of the civil rights of religious groups and would effectively prevent the delivery of services to this country's black and brown urban poor."

Faith-based service providers have long played a critical role in providing services, particularly to African Americans and immigrants, who were often not able to access other service providers due to discrimination. But until charitable choice and the faith-based initiative, religious providers had to set up separate, secular 501c3 organizations to administer public funds, and could not discriminate in hiring or the delivery of services funded by public monies.

President Bush is seeking to transfer up to $8 billion a year in federal funds to religious service providers. Allowing religious groups to discriminate in hiring for jobs funded by federal monies could open the door to widespread discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, and other characteristics. Regulatory oversight and professional training standards are also greatly diminished.

For more on the threats posed by the faith-based initiative, see Leaving Our Children Behind: Welfare Reform and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community, in the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force publications library.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.