The Salvation Army is widely known for the Christmas bell ringers who collect donations in large red kettles in front of stores. The Christian-affiliated organization also engages in emergency disaster services, hunger relief, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, veterans’ affairs, prison ministries, human trafficking advocacy, rehabilitation programs, children’s services and other crucial social programs. There’s no doubt that the organization does good deeds in the New York community and nationwide. However, the group that helps some of our most vulnerable populations has also been accused of discriminating against them in their employment, volunteer and benefits programs.

This March, the Salvation Army settled a decade-long lawsuit over religious discrimination in its New York chapter. The 18 former and current employees involved alleged that the organization proselytized to the people they served and required employees to pledge adherence to Christian principles while fulfilling government contracts and receiving government funding.

Although the Salvation Army is a religious organization, it discriminated while using government funds, and thereby violated rights to separation of church and state.

The recently settled dispute involved a 2003 incident that arose out of the Salvation Army’s reorganization plans. At that time, the plaintiff, Anne Lown, who is Jewish, oversaw the New York Salvation Army’s children’s services division. Ms. Lown’s employer directed her to give the employees she supervised forms that asked about their church attendance, names of their ministers and their religious beliefs. She opposed the policy and claims she was subsequently forced out of her job as retaliation.

A federal judge in Manhattan approved the settlement, which contained the following terms:

  • Salvation Army will pay $450,000 to the plaintiffs
  • Salvation Army government contracts will be monitored to ensure that social services are not tied to religion
  • Salvation Army will give its employees who are in government-funded jobs a document attesting to equal employment opportunity policies
  • Salvation Army will not inquire about its employees’ religious faiths
  • Salvation Army will follow sound practices without regard to its religious principles in the distribution of its social services programs
  • Employees will not undermine the religious mission of the organization
  • The Salvation Army admits no wrongdoing

Regardless of your employer’s religious affiliation, the organization is not permitted to discriminate against you if it receives government funding. Whether a religious-oriented employer is subject to anti-discrimination laws is complex and often blurry. Secure legal representation for answers to your questions about religious discrimination in NYC.