Monday, October 20, 2008

NY Times Article on Religious Staffing Freedom and Government Funds

The New York Times has published an article regarding the Department of Justice's opinion about religious staffing freedom and government funds.

Former Center Director and University of Missouri law professor Carl Esbeck is quoted in the article, defending the DOJ opinion.

ACLU rep Christopher Anders calls the memo “the church-state equivalent of the torture memos,” referring to the Department's conclusion that the government does not have a compelling interest in forcing religious employers to hire people who reject the organization's religious beliefs.

This is incredible. Since when is it so awful for religious employers to consider religion in personnel decisions? Should the government intervene when a synagogue declines to hire a Muslim as a rabbi? Should a Unitarian congregation face liability if it won't choose a "fundamentalist" Christian to serve as its pastor? Adding government money to the mix doesn't change the analysis -- it is still not wrong for religious groups to draw their personnel from among those who voluntarily embrace the group's beliefs.

The fact of the matter is that both the Constitution and RFRA forbid the federal government from forcing religious groups to give up the exercise of a constitutional right in exchange for social service and education money.

Senator Obama has suggested that religious groups should not be allowed to preserve their religious character through staffing policies if they want to participate in government-funded programs. If Mr. Obama is elected president, it is conceivable that he will repudiate the Department's opinion and apply religion nondiscrimination rules to religious groups, thereby undermining genuine religious freedom.