Help me understand the Russell Amendment
November 16, 2016 7:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to understand which aspects of the language in the Russell Amendment to the National Defense Reauthorization Act make it so dangerous. I've read that it's too vague, I've read that it will give sweeping powers of discrimination. I don't doubt that this is true. However, it's written in bill-ese and I'm therefore having difficulty parsing exactly what the status quo is, and what will change. Given the recent problems with liberals and conservatives reading entirely different sets of news, I'd like to have a deeper understanding so that I can explain to conservatives in specific detail what the problems are, and why it's not true that it's no big deal.

The amendment says:
"Any branch or agency of the Federal Government shall, with respect to any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society that is a recipient of or offeror for a Federal Government contract, subcontract, grant, purchase order, or cooperative agreement, provide protections and exemptions consistent with sections 702(a) and 703(e)(2) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-1(a) and 42 11 U.S.C. 2000e-2(e)(2)) and section 103(d) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 USC 12113(d)"

The referenced sections of the Civil Rights act say
"This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities."


"(2) it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for a school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning to hire and employ employees of a particular religion if such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is, in whole or in substantial part, owned, supported, controlled, or managed by a particular religion or by a particular religious corporation, association, or society, or if the curriculum of such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is directed toward the propagation of a particular religion."

Part of what I'm not understanding is that it's difficult for me to tell what about this amendment is more vague than the listed sections of the Civil Rights Act. I'd also like to have a more informed opinion on how to reconcile the two executive orders Steve Russell talks about - the federal non-discrimination order and the order giving equal footing to religious vendors.
posted by telepanda to Law & Government (1 answer total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that part of what might be causing trouble is that the status quo includes EO 13672 which "forces all federal contractors and subcontractors to affirmatively state that they make employment decisions without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Non-complying contractors are declared ineligible to contract with the federal government." (text from The Hill link).

So, right now, it's not unlawful for religious organizations to discriminate, but discriminatory organizations can't get federal government contracts/subcontracts. Which apparently makes it difficult for the 5 Muslim chaplains in the Army to obtain prayer rugs.

And, more cynically, the status quo keeps companies like Chick-Fil-A from being food vendors for Federal Government purposes. For example, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait has an impressive array of food vendors but all of those vendors have promised not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in order to comply with the current EO. I am sure that CFA would love to get in on that action, without having to adopt (and implement) a true anti-discrimination policy.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:36 AM on November 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

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