Sneak Preview: Few Faith-Based Grantees Seek Hiring Exemption

November 22, 2017 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) Although faith-based organizations receiving federal grant funding under programs that statutorily prevent employment discrimination based on religion may now request an exemption to hire based on religion, only a small percentage of these organizations over the last several years have actually obtained such an exemption, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Some faith-based organizations believe it is necessary to only hire individuals who share their religious beliefs in order to carry out their mission. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Pub. L. 88-352) prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, as well as other factors such as race, color, sex and national origin, section 702(a) of the act exempts faith-based organizations when making employment decisions based on religion, thereby permitting faith-based organizations to intentionally, and exclusively, hire individuals who share their religious beliefs. Although faith-based organizations that receive federal grant funding have generally been permitted to make employment decisions based on religion, there are some federal grant programs that are subject to statutory restrictions that prohibit grant recipients from using grant funding, in whole or in part, to discriminate or deny employment on the basis of religion, among other factors.

However, following a 2007 Department of Justice (DOJ) legal opinion, federal agencies could allow faith-based grant recipients to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (Pub. L. 103-141), under which the federal government may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it can prove a compelling interest in doing so, as a basis for seeking an exemption to allow religious-based hiring under a program that is subject to statutory restrictions from doing so. As a result of this decision, faith-based organizations can certify that they are exempt from such restrictions.

Congress asked GAO to research whether faith-based grant recipients since 2007 have certified that they are exempt from statutory restrictions on religious-based hiring citing RFRA. GAO also was tasked to determine what information federal agencies provide to notify faith-based grant recipients about such an exemption.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site.)

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