A persuasive case against faith-based hiring with federal funds

Aug 27, 2015

Evan Vucci/AP

By Times Editorial Board

Religious organizations long have been valuable partners with the federal government in providing services ranging from child care to drug and alcohol rehabilitation to the resettlement of refugees. But organizations that receive grants from Washington rightly must be willing to care not only for their own flock but for all people in need. Even former President George W. Bush, who made federal cooperation with faith-based agencies a priority, acknowledged that.

But when it came to hiring, the Bush administration allowed faith-based agencies to discriminate in favor of members of their own faith, even if the grant program in question required recipients not to do so. That policy is undergirded by a 2007 opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that is still in force. It concludes that preferring co-religionists is justified by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows case-by-case challenges to government actions that “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion.

Last week, 130 civil rights and liberal organizations sent a letter to President Obama urging him to reconsider the 2007 memo. The groups make a persuasive case. As Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the signatories, puts it, the memo provides a legal rationale for “taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.”
Such discrimination is troubling. It also exposes a contradiction that runs through the government subsidization of social services by religious groups. A key rationale for such assistance is that, as Bush put it in a 2002 speech, religious agencies “inspire life-changing faith in a way that government never should.” Yet under rules that Bush himself supported, those agencies can’t talk about that faith. Thus a Christian group running, say, a drug rehabilitation program may not tell participants that accepting Jesus must be part of their recovery.


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7 comments on “A persuasive case against faith-based hiring with federal funds

  • Faith based initiatives are make work projects where the recipients are chosen by their religion. That surely is a violation of separation of church and state. It looks like the legal opinion makers had a dog in the fight.



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  • Two things strike me about this story:

    We worry about private citizens who donate to religions being ripped off (see the current Question of the Week), yet here is a government giving money to religions.

    As the OP puts it:

    Some major faith-based groups that receive federal funds have no problem with opening their hiring to all. Catholic Relief Services says it considers job applicants on merit and without regard to religious beliefs.

    Taking the last first, we can again break this down two ways:

    The ‘Yeah, right! of course you do!’ response – based on our knowledge of the Catholic Church’s appalling record of transparency, as seen in the international scandal over child abuse.

    The ‘Of course, and the people who monitored were there all the time’ response. Not that they appear to do much, and the rules seem exceptionally liberal.

    As to the first point, it is very difficult to see how the current setup doesn’t result in the United States Government (USG) funding religions. If a USG-funded project requires two people to go to The Gambia, then here are the dollars to send two people.

    Concerned Secular Citizen: “Did my Government just fund the passage of two Missionaries to a new workplace”.

    USG: “The rules say we don’t care, so long as they spend the promised amount of time on the agreed Government project.” (meaning: Quite probably).

    The US Tax Payer is being ripped off right now.

    Peace.



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  • If Bush said they can do things a government project could not then there is the problem. The government funds are being used to perform work that is part of the governments remit. Essentially the groups are doing government work and enhancing it by adding their own resources. All government health, safety and equality rules should apply to the funded project regardless of the provider.



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  • Hi Dan,

    I disagree.

    The government funds are being used to perform work that is part of the governments remit.

    Government funds are given to religions who are, ostensibly, using those funds to support programs – yes. But to suggest that those religions are not, via that funding, empowered to prosletyze in situations created by those Government Programs appears to me to be naïve at face value.

    Essentially the groups are doing government work and enhancing it by adding their own resources.

    You appear to suggest that this is a one-way street, yet it clearly isn’t. At least some of the funds that those religions would need to employ to establish and run a comparable, charitable, program are saved and put to purely religious purposes. The effect is that the U.S. Government is funding organised religions indirectly.

    All government health, safety and equality rules should apply to the funded project regardless of the provider.

    I agree.

    But that doesn’t alter the facts: Government funding of programs that are delivered and/or managed by organised religions is Government establishment of religion because:

    ~ It establishes those religions by handing them indirect funding..

    ~ It establishes those participating religions bona fides as generous charitable givers. In effect the Government hands them positive Public Relations (PR) profile.

    ~ It establishes religions by creating free advertising: ‘Receive your (handout X) at the Mosque on the corner of Main Street and 1st Ave.’

    ~ It establishes religion by favouring organised religions over decentralised religions by providing funding and by co-operating in the PR of those religions that receive funding.

    ~ It establishes participating religions by granting them privileged access to Government Officers and Politicians and even, in some cases, extra-political structures (e.g. by inviting a Politician to sit on the religion’s Board.

    ~ It establishes religion by providing situations and opportunities to prosletyze that would otherwise not exist.

    Peace.



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  • Maybe if I rephrase:

    1) Government funds are being used to provide ” services ranging from child care to drug and alcohol rehabilitation to the resettlement of refugees”
    2) Being government projects to do those things that means there are obligations that go with being involved with those projects.
    3) Bush saying that they can do things a government project could not is alluding to the idea that they do not have to be bound by those obligations. That is the problem, its wrong and immoral, and as you say “establishing religion” by providing funds for religious purposes outside the scope of the government project.



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