Plaintiffs alleged in the suit that job applicants and employees have been required since last year to pledge on a questionnaire to pursue the group’s religious mission, which is to “preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ” Reuters reported. They were also asked to identify churches they had attended in the past decade.
The lawsuit argued The Salvation Army’s new employment policy violated federal anti-discrimination laws. It said employees lost their jobs or were threatened with firing when they refused to indicate their religious practices and opposed spending government money to support the group’s religious mission. Social service programs related to foster care, adoption, HIV and juvenile detention previously had their own mission statement, which was more secularly based, lawyers said.
The Salvation Army Greater New York Division receives $89 million a year in taxpayer money, mostly from the state, New York City and the counties of Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island.
“For years, the Salvation Army has run these programs very successfully without injecting religion into the workplace,” said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in Manhattan federal court, at a news briefing. “Religion is irrelevant to the success of these programs and it should remain so.”
Lawyers in the case said that the catalyst for the group’s change was a Bush administration policy that made it easier for evangelical churches to obtain federal money for so-called faith-based programs, which critics complained blurred the line between the constitutional separation of church and state.