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HUD No. 02-029
Contact: Brian Sullivan
(202)708-0685 x7527
For Release
March 15, 2002

Martinez Seeks to End Faith-Based Discrimination in HUD Programs
Announces Open Door Policy for Groups of All Faiths

WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez today announced that it is not HUD’s policy to exclude faith-based organizations from federally funded public-housing programs because of their religious beliefs. Today’s announcement furthers President Bush’s commitment to break down barriers to faith-based and other community grassroots organizations’ participation in federal programs.

Martinez is notifying approximately 3,200 local public housing authorities granting them the authority to institute "an open door policy" for faith-based organizations to provide social services to public housing residents.

"At a time of hardship in our cities, when government resources are already stretched to the limit, we need these guardian angels," said Martinez. "My hope is to end the confusion and help to establish a level playing field for faith-based and community organizations that seek a partnership with the federal government."

Since taking office, Martinez directed a top-to-bottom review of all HUD programs to identify barriers to the participation of community- and faith-based organizations. As a result, HUD is working to remove these barriers and reach out to the faith community and other grassroots organizations that are uniquely positioned to more effectively provide social services to low-income Americans.

With today’s announcement (see full text, below), Martinez is seeking to clarify the Department’s guidelines after several reports that local housing and community development agencies were restricting access to faith-based organizations.

For example, Martinez also responded to a recent case of a faith-based organization in Sioux Falls, South Dakota that declined $63,000 in federal funding because the City of Sioux Falls required it alter its practice of praying before serving meals to homeless persons. Citing HUD guidelines, city officials asked St. Francis House to substitute a moment of silence for the voluntary prayer. Sioux Falls reserved funding for St. Francis House while City officials asked HUD to review the case.

"I believe that the request that St. Francis House modify the content of its program was improper," said Martinez. "One of the highest priorities of this Administration is to improve the quality of our society’s response to persons in need and there’s no better way to do that than encouraging the participation of community- and faith-based organizations."

This policy guidance is similar to a statement Martinez issued last December instructing local housing agencies not to forbid seasonal religious symbols or displays. Citing prevailing case law, Martinez stressed that HUD regulations do not prohibit religious displays in public settings provided equal opportunity is provided to organizations of any faith.

HUD's Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships builds upon President Bush's plan to level the playing field for effective partnerships with the faith-based and community groups. These organizations are leading the charge against homelessness, hopelessness and promote healing to shattered neighborhoods and communities. More information is available at HUD's Center.

HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing minority homeownership, creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income American's, supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development as well as enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov.


Secretary Martinez Notice on Open Door Policy for Faith-Based Organizations

One of HUD’s most fundamental obligations is to provide residents of public housing with living environments that are reflective of their human dignity. The Department seeks to break down barriers that isolate public housing residents from their communities by providing them with access to counseling, training, and enrichment programs, to give them the tools they need to prepare for economic independence.

I want to use this opportunity to encourage managers of public housing facilities and other multi-family facilities to provide access to the common areas and meeting rooms of your facilities to organizations that conduct these programs.

At HUD, we believe great weight should be given to the desires of residents in determining the nature of programs conducted at housing facilities. I hope you will actively discern the kinds of programs that are desired and can be accommodated.

Finally, I want to affirm that HUD follows a fundamental constitutional principle regarding faith-based organizations, articulated by the Supreme Court: to the extent the common areas and meeting rooms are made available to any organization for the purpose of conducting residential programs, faith-based organizations may not be denied the equal right of access because of their religious character. To do so is to engage in viewpoint discrimination, in violation of the free speech rights of the organization - and perhaps the religious exercise rights of the residents as well.

Please know that I admire and appreciate all that you do to assist those who are in need in your community. Best wishes for your continued service.


Mel Martinez

Content Archived: April 9, 2010

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