A former vice president of the organization's human resources department, however, said the new language appeared to be a change.
"Putting it in a letter and requiring a signature, that's a condition of employment. There's no way to dance around that," said Wayne Swann, who served 3 1/2 years on Catholic Charities' board of directors and an additional four years as its vice president.
On the basis of Supreme Court rulings, President George W. Bush issued executive orders allowing faith-based social service groups that receive public money to discriminate in their hiring practices. As a candidate, President Obama sided with those opposing such hiring limits and vowed to stop them. But since Obama took office, the issue has remained under study by the Justice Department.
Federal and D.C. laws explicitly give religious groups exemptions from bans on religiously based employment discrimination, but some church-state experts point to federal funding statutes -- including those for Head Start and the Workforce Investment Act -- that ban such preferences. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits discrimination in government-funded programs, they say.
"Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for positions to which they can't apply, solely on the basis of their faith," said Dan Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
There is no hard data on the percentage of faith-based social service groups that have religious hiring requirements in an effort to maintain their faith identity. World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief organizations in the world, requires U.S.-based employees to sign a statement saying they agree with the organization's tenets or the Apostles' Creed.