Government-Sanctioned Religious Discrimination

Last week the evangelical humanitarian organization World Relief, which is affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals, announced that it would formalize its 65-year policy of discriminating in hiring against non-evangelicals. Or, to put it in World Relief’s terms, “hiring according to our faith.” Although World Relief claims it won’t require employees to be Christians, it will require them to affirm its mission statement, which requires following Jesus.

Religious organizations are exempt from the discrimination prohibitions in federal civil rights laws, but President Barack Obama had promised during the campaign to reverse Bush-era rules that extend that exemption even to religious organizations that receive federal funding. Obama still hasn’t changed the policy, instead saying his administration would assess instances of discrimination on a “case-by-case basis,” angering civil liberties advocates who have been pressing him for well over a year to implement a policy change.

World Relief received over $14 million in federal funding in FY 2009, from the U.S. Agency for International Development, State Department, and Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to its recent announcement of enforcement of its hiring and retention policy, World Relief has come under fire for refusing to hire a Muslim interpreter who had volunteered for the organization for six months in its refugee resettlement work. Refugee resettlement is one of the programs for which World Relief receives federal funding. (I’ve asked the White House whether World Relief has been subject to that “case-by-case” review and will update with any response.)

As the health care reform debate played out over more than the first year of Obama’s term in office, anti-reproductive rights advocates — including, most notably, the Catholic Church — complained vociferously and ceaselessly about how they did not want their tax dollars going to pay for another person’s abortion. (Never mind that the bills under consideration protected against that, and that the bill that became law protected against it; the anti-choice coalition still opposes the law and is even suing over it.) Yet, even though polling shows that overwhelming majorities of Americans oppose federal funding for religious organizations that engage in hiring discrimination, the taxpayer-funded discrimination policy has not changed.

The group of anti-choice organizations opposing health care reform had a Stop the Abortion Mandate coalition. Would a Stop the Discrimination Mandate coalition be as effective?