Persistent Myths About Religious Hiring
The Executive Order on "Fundamental Principles and Policymaking Criteria for Partnerships with Faith-Based and Other Neighborhood Organizations" that President Obama issued on November 17th (story here
) essentially ratifies the rules for government funding of faith-based organizations that were developed during the Clinton administration ("Charitable Choice
" laws) and the Bush administration ("Equal Treatment
" regulations). The Executive Order was silent about the important issue of religious hiring by faith-based organizations that receive federal funds.
That silence prompted predictable outrage by critics of the religious hiring freedom. Alas, their protests contain predictable myths about the freedom.
The New York Times
fumed that President Obama had again failed to institute the complete ban on religious hiring by recipients of federal funds that candidate Obama had promised. The Times editorialized
: "Groups running worthy social service programs should not be disqualified from receiving federal financing simply because they have a religious affiliation. But they should get no special exemption from antidiscrimination laws. Public money should not be used to underwrite discrimination."
Oops. Religious hiring is a protected freedom structured into
our premier civil rights law, the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VII). It is emphatically not
a "special exemption from antidiscrimination laws." Moreover, according to that Civil Rights Act, religious hiring by religious organizations (for any and all positions in the organization) is emphatically not
discrimination--action that must be stamped out. Instead, it is a carefully and fully protected
freedom and right.
Robert Marus' report
on the Executive Order for the Associated Baptist Press promoted another of the perennial myths: "As a candidate in 2008, Obama promised to reverse President George W. Bush's policy of [allowing] government-funded religious groups to take faith into account when hiring." Indeed, candidate Obama did promise an unprecedented universal ban.
But religious hiring by faith-based organizations that receive federal funds is a practice that long predates the Bush administration. Only a few federal programs (for example, Head Start) have ever banned religious hiring by participating organizations. The Bush administration only clarified how extensive the religious hiring freedom actually is (and expanded it slightly: authorizing faith-based organizations that hire by religion to accept federal contracts
to provide services to the federal government--an entirely different matter than federal grants
to organizations to provide social, educational, and health services to other people).
Because the religious hiring freedom was not created by the Bush administration but already existed in most federal programs, many faith-based organizations that consider religion to be an important job qualification have for many decades partnered with the federal government to provide many important services. And they have reminded the federal government that if that important hiring freedom were to be banned, they could no longer collaborate with the federal government to serve the needy.
My guess: the Obama administration knows that the religious hiring freedom was not created by the Bush administration but instead is a long-standing and widespread practice by very many of the federal government's trusted and long-term partners. Banning the practice would cause utter chaos in federally funded services and result in great hardship for many individuals, families, and communities that depend on federally funded services delivered by faith-based organizations that preserve their religious identity by considering religion when hiring. That's why President Obama hasn't fulfilled the rash promise of candidate Obama.