Defeat of Discriminatory “Russell Amendment” a Key Victory for Secularism, says Center for Inquiry

For Immediate Release: December 2, 2016
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785


The Center for Inquiry lauded the defeat of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, known as the Russell Amendment, that would have required all federal agencies to allow religiously affiliated contractors and grantees to discriminate in hiring. CFI, which advances secular government and humanist values, was an early and ardent opponent of this measure.

“We categorically reject the idea that taxpayers should be forced to subsidize religiously based discrimination, and that is what is at the heart of measures like the Russell Amendment,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of government affairs. “We are proud to have played a role in preventing this regressive and unconscionable amendment from becoming the law of the land.”

Under the Russell Amendment, a faith-based organization would have been allowed to take taxpayer money to perform a social service for the public — such as running a homeless shelter or working with at-risk youth — and then refuse to hire employees to perform these services who do not profess the same religious beliefs or whose lifestyle does not comport with those beliefs. These contractors and grantees would be free to reject qualified job applicants simply for subscribing to the “wrong” religion, and fire employees whose life choices do not comport with that religion, such as LGBTQ employees or women who use contraception.

“This is an even more important victory than it might seem,” said De Dora. “The incoming administration is being staffed by figures who enthusiastically endorse discriminatory measures like this one, and those being pushed through statehouses across the country. It is imperative that we build widespread resistance today so that we are better prepared to defend the secular nature of our government against the assaults of tomorrow.”

CFI joined several coalition letters opposing the Russell Amendment, including one to House leadership in April, and another to Senate leadership in May. In addition, CFI issued several action alerts that garnered thousands of emails to members of Congress. Dozens of major religious, education, civil rights, labor, and women’s organizations, as well as almost 350,000 Americans, urged Congress to reject taxpayer-funded discrimination.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at