Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
September 6, 2001
Archived Information

Ms. Susan Zlotlow
Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002-4242

Dear Ms. Zlotlow:

I am writing to express the Department's deep concern over the American Psychological Association's (APA) proposal to eliminate "Footnote 4" from its accreditation standards for psychology programs.

As you know, this country has a long history of ensuring and protecting religious liberty. The First Amendment of the Constitution protects the rights of Americans to freely exercise their religious beliefs. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 acknowledges the appropriateness of allowing employers (including educational institutions) controlled by religious organizations to hire only members of that religion. 42 USC 2000e-2(e) Similarly, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 provides an exemption to educational institutions controlled by a religious organization whose tenets conflict with the requirements of Title IX, and the Americans with Disabilities Act permits religious entities to give preference in employment to individuals of a particular religion and permits such entities to require applicants and employees to conform to the religious tenets of the organization. 20 USC 1681(a)(3); 42 USC 12113(c).

In addition, the Nation has long benefited greatly from the many contributions made by America's numerous religious colleges. We believe these colleges play a very important role in higher education generally, and in ensuring a diverse array of educational and career opportunities for all students. Footnote 4 recognizes this important educational role served by psychology departments at religious colleges and allows them to be judged pursuant to the APA's criteria, while retaining their ability to administer their admissions and hiring policies in keeping with their religious tenets.

If the APA were to remove Footnote 4 from its accreditation standards, it would be acting inconsistently with this long tradition of ensuring and protecting religious liberty. Specifically, over the past several years, Footnote 4 has made clear that religious institutions will be exempt from diversity requirements that interfere with a religious institution's right to define its religious character and teachings. Without Footnote 4, a religious institution seeking APA accreditation of its psychology programs would be faced with the choice of either conforming to the APA diversity requirements, and having to potentially compromise the religious institution's principles, or foregoing accreditation by the APA.

As you know, the Department of Education has recognized the APA for a number of years as an approved accrediting association for psychology programs. See 20 U.S.C. §1099b(m) (Secretary recognizes accrediting agencies exclusively to establish eligibility of schools to participate in federal programs); 34 C.F.R. §602.10 (accrediting agencies provide "required element" for schools to participate in federal programs). See also 20 U.S.C. §1099b(a) (recognized accrediting agencies must be "reliable authorities"); 34 C.F.R. §602.1 (same). As we understand it, currently, both the Department of Health and Human Services' Public Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs have policies requiring psychologists to have graduated from an approved APA program in order to be employed as psychologists by those agencies.

Therefore, if the APA were to deny accreditation to a religious institution for following its religious tenets in admissions or hiring, the Department of Education's recognition of the APA could have the effect of barring an individual who attended that religious institution from serving in those agencies solely because the individual graduated from a religious institution that was acting in accordance with its Constitutionally protected religious freedom. In this way, the Department could effectively be interfering with both students' choice regarding attendance at a religious college and with the religious communities' selection and education of their current and future leaders: the people who serve now, or are being trained to serve later, as ministers, pastoral counselors and psychological educators. Such a situation not only would be contrary to the APA's current policy under Footnote 4, but it also would raise serious questions under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as recently amended, which prevents the Department of Education from "substantially burden[ing] a person's exercise of religion...." 42 USC 2000bb-1(a) (2000).

For these reasons, I urge the APA to retain Footnote 4.




William D. Hansen

cc: Judith Strassburger

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Last Modified: 09/15/2004