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Taxpayer-funded discrimination

Taxpayer-funded discrimination

Nicole Neroulias of Beliefnet asks whether religious organizations that receive federal subsidies–sometimes significant federal subsidies–should be allowed to discriminate in hiring, or to force employees to worship.

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly aired an interesting piece this weekend about whether faith-based groups that accept government funding may continue only hiring members of their own faith. (Remember, the ongoing controversy here is that these groups are supported by taxpayer money, in contrast to completely private organizations.)

It’s a heated debate. Most people seem to agree that such groups may not use public funds to try to convert the people they’re helping, but the employment question remains touchy. President Obama seems to have switched from opposing such hiring discrimination, to viewing it on a “case by case basis,” and the practice has been upheld by the courts, for now.

One problem I had with Kim Lawton’s reporting: she let World Vision off way too easy. This major Christian global aid organization, which is in my neck of the woods, “received more than $300 million in cash and goods from the federal government” last year; its leaders maintain the right to “consider religion in its hiring.” That’s a pretty mild way of putting what you find on their job descriptions, which includes “attend and participate in daily devotions and weekly Chapel services,” even for positions like “website support team supervisor.” That’s even above and beyond just signing off on their Statement of Faith and Apostle’s Creed, which you would assume means the folks they hire already attend church regularly and pray at home. How many highly-qualified altruistic people are turned off or away by these requirements, and how much time are required prayer sessions taking from multi-million dollar government-funded efforts to help the world’s (non-Christian) needy?

I don’t grasp the argument that allows organizations that accept government funding to discriminate based on rules of their own. Can someone explain it to me?


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Michael Russell

No worries, all that money will be cut soon enough. That said, unless the work intrinsically needs the religious expressions, they should be forbidden from using them in most Fed funded programs. Not so much if the benefit is given to the recipient who then closes a service provider. Some recovery programs pitch a belief element as an essential part of the program and have been cut slack there.


The question to be asked is: would the religious organization be engaging in this work whether or not the gov’t was providing assistance?

If yes, and the organization feels that its religious nature is intrinsic to the work being done then why should we demand they change who they are and possibley endanger the effectiveness of the work they do?

If the answer is no, then we need to lok closer at the reason why the organization would seek to undertake the work, and if it is not intrinsic to their purpose as a religious organization, then we can fairly ask that they seek employees outside of their organization for the contracted work.

Why does the government seek to tfund the work of religious organizations? Is it because it is work they won’t do, can’t be bothered to do, or can’t do as well?

Jon White

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