Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Washington Post's Senseless Editorial on Religious Hiring Rights

In the Washington Post's editorial today, titled "Faith-Based Obama," (behind subscription), the Post finds that Obama's recent speech on the faith-based initiative and his plan to retain it while stripping religious organizations of their right to hire those who agree with their beliefs is a "sensible balance." The Post reaches this conclusion despite first acknowledging that laws prohibiting religious discrimination in employment exempt religious employers - exemptions that the Post says "only make sense." So, it is sensible to exempt religious employers from these nondiscrimination laws, but it is a "sensible balance" to prohibit them from hiring persons who agree with their views if they are receiving any government funds to provide services that the government believes are necessary. Makes perfect sense.

The flaws in the Post's thinking are many so I'll limit my comments here to a couple. First, the Post seems to approach this question, as many do, from a perspective that faith-based charities are benefitting from the government and thus must be willing to play by its rules. This approach treats faith-based nonprofits as just another government contractor. But while for-profit contractors are generally paid a market rate for a service rendered, charitable organizations receiving a grant under the faith-based initiative are not looking to profit and the grants typically cover only a part of their expenses. The remainder is paid for by the non-profit's donors. It is the government that benefits from these programs because instead of, for example, creating its own homeless shelters, soup kitchens, marriage counseling programs, etc., the government relies upon already existing faith-based and other programs at a much lower cost to the taxpayer. Approaching this matter then from the perspective of what the faith-based organization owes the government for IT's charity misunderstands the relationship.

The Post also claims that most faith-based groups that take federal funds have managed to thrive for years without discriminating in their hiring. It gives no examples, so it is unclear what the Post considers "faith-based." However, it is true that some organizations that are ostensibly religious see no need to limit hiring based on religion. That is unsurprising as an organization that does not limit its hiring to those who share its beliefs will very soon cease to represent those beliefs. And at that point there is no reason to limit hiring to those who agree with views that the organization no longer considers it important to represent.

The Post also cheerleads for imposing sexual orientation nondiscrimination rules on faith-based charities if the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is enacted in an Obama presidency -- even if it contains exemptions for religious organizations (a topic Greg has written on several times here).

Were there any doubt, the Post's editorial unintentionally illustrates why Obama's proposal would create a faith-based initiative that that favors "progressive" religious organizations over "orthodox" religious organizations (more on this from Greg here).