Three Years Later, Obama Officially Breaks Promise on Faith-Based Hiring Discrimination

On April 27, the Obama administration published its new guidelines for organizations receiving federal funds to provide services through faith-based initiatives. In an effort to increase transparency, according to the administration, the 50-page report details how organizations must separate their religious mission from their community service mission-- certainly a worthy goal. However, the report contains little significant change to the church-government partnerships initiated by President George W. Bush that provide direct taxpayer funding to religious institutions. Some of these institutions, not surprisingly, have had some problems separating the community’s best interests from their own. One especially crucial issue, which President Obama himself recognized in Zainesville, Ohio, as a candidate in 2008, is the fact that these organizations are allowed to discriminate in the hiring process based on religion.  

In his Zainesville speech, President Obama said, “First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.” There you go, that’s a wrap, folks – taxpayer money is to promote general well-being and if he gets elected those funds aren’t going to be used to further one group’s specific causes over the other – right? Not quite. Three years later the President has not kept his promise. When he was pressed on the issue, by Amanda Knief of the Secular Coalition for America, the issue of hiring discrimination by faith-based groups had become “tricky” and the President had apparently decided that the status quo struck a good balance. Fast forward 9 months, and the Administration has now confirmed in its guidelines that hiring discrimination is acceptable, if religion is a core principal of your mission.

Despite what the President said last summer, there is no nuance, it isn’t “tricky”; he had it right as a candidate. An organizational mission that serves the entire public doesn’t require employees of a specific faith. The Administration’s decision to allow this discrimination is a choice to prioritize the concerns of religious organizations over the people these programs are intended to serve.   

 

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