Reps. Conyers, Scott, Nadler and Cohen Ask DOJ to Have 2007 OLC RFRA Opinion Reconsidered

Feb 23, 2016 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

WASHINGTON - Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-TN) issued a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to follow-up on a request to instruct the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to review and reconsider an opinion issued on June 29, 2007. The opinion has been interpreted to permit federally funded faith-based organizations to use the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to override statutory employment nondiscrimination laws. 

The 2007 opinion, based on flawed analysis, found that RFRA was “reasonably construed” to permit World Vision, a religiously-affiliated federal grant recipient, to refuse to hire non-coreligionists for jobs that were funded by taxpayer money even though the statute governing the grant explicitly prohibited such religious hiring discrimination.

In the letter, the Members express that they are “…deeply concerned that the OLC opinion is being cited with increasing frequency to protect discriminatory employment practices in cases beyond the specific grant at issue in the opinion.”  The letter continues, “while the OLC opinion specified that its conclusion was ‘limited to the issuance of this grant to World Vision,’ it has since been used to justify hiring discrimination practices in other Justice Department programs such as the Violence Against Women Act, and in programs run by other federal agencies.”

“Although the OLC opinion is now more than eight and half years old, it remains problematic because it continues to be cited to justify blanket exemptions to nondiscrimination provisions in federally-funded programs,” said the lawmakers.

A full copy of the letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch is available here.

Video of the November 17, 2015 Oversight of the United Department of Justice full committee hearing is available here.

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