FIRE, NAS and ACTA Urge Department of Health and Human Services to Take Action against Viewpoint Discrimination

By March 14, 2007

FIRE, the National Association of Scholars (NAS), and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) wrote a joint letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today, once again urging HHS to take action against unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination at America’s social work schools.

Currently, HHS requires the social workers it hires to have degrees from programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which imposes ideological litmus tests on students in its accredited social work programs. CSWE requires graduates of accredited programs to demonstrate a commitment to “social and economic justice,” and to “understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and apply strategies of advocacy and social change that advance social and economic justice.” These vague and politically loaded requirements can be, and have been, used to prevent students with dissenting views from obtaining a social work degree. Because HHS only hires social workers from CSWE-accredited institutions, HHS indirectly maintains the same ideological litmus test as CSWE.

In October 2006, FIRE, NAS and ACTA each wrote to Admiral John Agwunobi, Assistant Secretary for Health, to express their concerns over this issue. Admiral Agwunobi’s response cited Rear Admiral Denise Canton as the point of contact regarding policy development in this area, and advised us to direct additional comments to her. The three organizations wrote jointly to Rear Admiral Canton today, urging her to implement a policy change that would protect social work students’ right to freedom of conscience. We wrote that:

[T]he U.S. government should not in any way reward an organization that maintains evaluative standards that infringe—as CSWE’s do—on social work students’ fundamental right to freedom of conscience. We urge you to end your exclusive relationship with CSWE until CSWE agrees to remove the viewpoint discrimination that is currently mandated by its standards.

We look forward to a response from Rear Admiral Canton.