Monday, January 5, 2009

Christian Science Monitor on the Faith-Based Initiative

The Christian Science Monitor has published an article regarding the faith-based initiative under the Obama Administration. Our friend Stanley Carlson-Thies of the newly launched Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance is quoted extensively.

Although the article is generally good and informative, it does incorrectly suggest that the Administration encouraged faith-based grant recipients to use funds in unconstitutional ways. This is incorrect.

The article invokes "critics" of the freedom of religious organizations to staff on a religious basis. Those critics essentially argue that anyone who pays taxes should be eligible for every job at every employer that receives some sort of government support. This argument is hard to take seriously. President Obama is not required to ignore a person's political affiliation in selecting his nominees and appointees. The CIA is not required to ignore an applicant's relationships with al Qaeda in choosing its spies. Even moreso, private entities that merely receive some government benefit -- but are not the government -- have the freedom to take lawful factors into account in their personnel decisions.

The article quotes Melissa Rogers of Wake Forest Divinity School, who asserts that "government only funds tasks that are nonreligious in nature" and therefore, that recipients of government funds shouldn't be allowed to exercise the freedom they possess under Title VII and the First Amendment to staff on a religious basis. The problem with this argument is that it presupposes a particular and tendentious definition of "nonreligious." To illustrate, how would you characterize meeting the material needs of the homeless? One could plausibly characterize this as "nonreligious"; but one could just as easily characterize it as religious, particularly if the entity providing the services does so based on its religious commitments. In short, religious groups legitimately fill jobs with those who share their views even if those jobs are not limited to preaching sermons and administering sacraments.

Let us continue to hope and pray that the Obama Administration, for the sake of those served by faith-based social service providers, will preserve the freedom of these groups to maintain their unique religious identity.