Tuesday, January 15, 2013

ACLU opposes Little Rock contract with Rescue Mission

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 3:55 PM

The Arkansas affiliate of the ACLU has announced its opposition to a proposed $300,000 contract between the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock and the Union Rescue Mission to operate the city's day center for the homeless, soon to open in a building acquired from Union Rescue on Confederate Boulevard. The ACLU said taxpayer money shouldn't be used to pay a staff that will be hired in a way that discriminates on the basis of religion.

The ACLU says it would take whatever action was appropriate to stop the deal.

The city has defended the legality of Union Rescue's intention to hire only evangelical Christians with the city money to staff the city's center in a city building. Union Rescue Mission has been unwilling to speak publicly about the matter and has even asked to be removed from the Arkansas Homeless Coalition e-mail list since a member raised questions. I've sought a comment from the city on the news.

UPDATE:

* CITY MANAGER BRUCE MOORE: "I have been relying on [City attorney Tom Carpenter] Tom’s opinion. However, I am already moving forward with other options at this point."

* ASSISTANT CITY MANAGER BRYAN DAY, WHO'S BEEN OVERSEEING THE HOMELESS PROJECT: "I have not seen a release from the URM but did visit with William [Tollett, the mission director] earlier; he tells me the URM plans to meet on Wednesday to discuss whether or not to move forward with the City to operate the day resource center. We had planned to wait until they made a decision, one way or the other; if they choose not to operate the day resource center, we will look at other options.

The ACLU release

The ACLU of Arkansas opposes $300,000 contract between the cities of Little Rock, AR and North Little Rock and Union Rescue Mission (URM) to operate a day resource center for the homeless in property owned by Little Rock. The ACLU obtained materials from the City of Little Rock via the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act on Friday, January 11, 2013.

The ACLU confirmed reports that URM plans to engage in hiring practices for personnel to operate the homeless center which discriminate on the basis of religion. Applicants for jobs must profess a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and live under the authority of Scripture.

“That $300,000 is taxpayer money,” said ACLU of Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar today. “The proposed contract between the cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock and the Union Rescue Mission raises both constitutional (First Amendment) and federal law (Title 7) concerns. Also troubling is the fact that there was no competitive bidding for the contract. The justification given for this lack of bids is insufficient.”

The ACLU is concerned that because of the way the contract was awarded (no bid) and URM’s employment discrimination on religious grounds the city’s actions may have the effect of advancing the religion espoused by URM at the expense of other religions and non-religion. This would be a violation of the First Amendment.

In addition, the ACLU believes that URM’s discriminatory hiring practices may violate the federal law known as Title 7, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees and potential employees on the basis of religion. “While there is an exception for certain employers to this prohibition against hiring based on religious affiliation, we do not believe it applies here,” added Sklar.

“Given the religious bias already exhibited by URM in its hiring practices, the ACLU also is concerned that URM could discriminate against the homeless who do not espouse its brand of Christianity and who may have made life choices
that URM does not approve of,” said cooperating attorney Bettina Brownstein. “Injection of religion into the operation of the center in this way would be not only unconstitutional but especially troubling.”

“The ACLU will continue to look into this matter and will take whatever action is appropriate,” said Sklar.

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