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Salvation Army Discrimination Dismissed; Possible Violation of 1st Amendment

By October 16, 2005

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Earlier this month, US Southern District Judge Sidney Stein ruled that the Salvation Army "cannot be sued for religious discrimination in hiring even though it receives government funding to administer social services." In Lown v. The Salvation Army, 04 Civ. 1562 (pdf) , Stein held that "discrimination alleged against the Salvation Army cannot be attributed to the government agencies that contract with the organization." However, Stein refused to dismiss an alleged violation of the Establishment Clause. His ruling is not available on the court website.

According to the suit, the Greater New York Division of the Eastern Territory of the Salvation Army (henceforth referenced as "the Salvation Army" or "the Army") provides social services through two organizations. One of these, Social Services for Children (SSC), is a contractor to government agencies; 95 percent of its budget is taxpayer funded. Programs include child welfare programs and day care facilities.

Although the Salvation Army is a church, the SSC has a secular mission and has, historically, been exempt from the Army's efforts to "monitor" employees for "adherence to the Salvation Army's religious tenets." Plaintiffs allege that "the Salvation Army began to infuse religion into SSC's workplace." A 2004 change to the employee handbook states the Army "reserve[s] the right to make employment decisions on the basis of an employee's conduct or behavior that is incompatible with the [religious] principles of the Salvation Army." Employees must also sign a form acknowledging that they understand the Army's "status as a church" and pledge not to "undermine its religious mission."

Plaintiffs argue that the secular division -- focused on social work and funded almost exclusively from taxpayers -- is in violation of the separation clause with these actions.

The judge "found the plaintiffs had standing to sue as taxpayers challenging the fact that 10 percent -- 'the traditional religious tithe' -- of the face value of the SSC government contracts was diverted to the Salvation Army, allegedly to be used for religious purposes." However, the judge did not find that the plaintiffs had standing to sue based on religious discrimination, asserting that Title VII "does not apply to religious organizations discriminating on religious grounds in employment."

The US Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the defendents (html - google cache or wpd file). Read the ACLU brief; undated Salvation Army statement.

On its website, the Salvation Army describes its "soldiers" as "radical disciples of Jesus Christ."

Join the discussion in the USP Forum. Blogs covering this story or faith-based initiatives: Balkinization, Big Fat Liberal, FranCroaker, Markiarchy, Religion Clause, Soul Force, The World According to Bill Fisher

Updated: Learn more about Faith Based Initiatives from US Liberals Guide Deborah White.

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