Friday, October 17, 2008

Justice Department Posts Opinion on Religious Staffing and RFRA

The U.S. Department of Justice has finally put online its June 29, 2007, opinion stating that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) permits the government to exempt a federal grant recipient from a religion nondiscrimination attached to the money. The Department's Office of Legal Counsel issued the opinion.

The Department's Office of Justice Programs had awarded World Vision, a religious organization, a $1.5 million grant under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. As a condition of receiving grants under the Act, recipients may not discriminate on the basis of religion in "employment in connection with any programs or activity." World Vision takes religion into account in its personnel decisions.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 forbids the federal government from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, unless the imposition of that burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.

OLC explained first that World Vision's operation of its government-funded program constituted the "exercise of religion" within the meaning of RFRA. It then stated that the government would "substantially burden" World Vision's religious exercise if it required World Vision to comply with the religion nondiscrimination rule. Finally, OLC concluded that applying the religion nondiscrimination rule to World Vision would not further a compelling governmental interest.