SHJ Opposes Antidiscrimination Exemptions for Religious Organizations

SHJ Opposes Antidiscrimination Exemptions for Religious Organizations


Farmington Hills, MI, July 16, 2014 – The Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ) joined 90 religious, education, civil rights, labor, LGBT, women’s, and health organizations in a request to Attorney General Eric Holder that the Office of Legal Council (OLC) withdraw its June 29, 2007 Memorandum, which exempts religious organizations from adhering to the non-discrimination provision in the 2013 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA bars organizations from engaging in employment discrimination with VAWA funds, but, because the OLC Memo governs administration policy, the administration is permitting religious organizations to use religion as a criterion when using taxpayer dollars to hire employees. Such exemptions threaten core civil rights and religious freedom.


The SHJ also joined more than 100 organizations in a letter to President Obama urging him to sign an executive order that would bar discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The letter urges him “to reject calls to weaken the executive order by providing a special exemption for religiously affiliated contractors” and asks that he “rescind Executive Order 13279’s amendment of Executive Order 11246, which exempted religious organizations that contract with the government from the prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of religion.” Unfortunately, the Executive Order issued, while expanding anti-discrimination protections long applied to “race, color, religion, sex or national origin” to LGBT workers, left intact the 2002 Executive Order permitting religious groups the right to consult their beliefs when hiring and firing for government contracts.


SHJ Executive Director Bonnie Cousens said, “Such religious exemptions, based largely on a broad interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), permit religious organizations and, since the Hobby Lobby decision, for-profit companies to impose their religious beliefs on employees. SHJ will continue to work, in coalition with like-minded organizations, to eliminate such government-supported exemptions permitting the imposition of one set of religious beliefs on individuals who hold other beliefs.”


The Society for Humanistic Judaism is the national umbrella organization for Humanistic Jewish congregations in North America. These congregations embrace a human-centered philosophy that celebrates Jewish culture without supernatural underpinnings. Humanistic Jews value their Jewish identity and the aspects of Jewish culture that offer a genuine expression of their contemporary way of life. Humanistic Judaism embraces the belief in the human capacity to create a better world rather than in reliance on a deity.


The Society for Humanistic Judaism helps to organize local congregations and havurot, creates and disseminates celebrational and educational materials, provides national programs, including programs for teens and young adults, and serves the needs of individual members who do not live near an existing Humanistic congregation.