Religious Hiring Rights


KIM LAWTON, correspondent: It’s graduation time at the Helping Up Mission, a nondenominational Christian ministry for poor and homeless men in Baltimore. On this day, several men are being recognized for reaching new stages of success in their recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Helping Up believes that spirituality plays a key role in the recovery process, and it wants those who work there to reflect its values. The ministry relies largely on private donations, but it has received some public funding as well, and that raises a difficult question: If the mission takes government money, should it still be allowed to only hire people who share its religious beliefs?

BOB GEHMAN (Executive Director, Helping Up Mission): A faith-based organization is only faith-based if it can hire people of the particular faith that it espouses, so if, for instance, we were not able to discriminate in our hiring practices based on our faith and religion, that would change us.

BARRY LYNN (Executive Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State): I don’t think that there’s any moral or ethical or constitutional justification for a religious group taking government funds, tax dollars, and saying we’re only going to hire the people we want, we’re going to have a religious litmus test for hiring. That’s dead wrong, and it should be stopped.

post01-barrylynnLAWTON: For decades, religious groups have been partnering with the government to provide a host of social services in the US and around the world. Those partnerships attracted new visibility—and new controversy—after President George W. Bush created his faith-based initiative—

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: People who don’t have hope can find hope.

LAWTON: —in his words “to level the playing field” so that more religious groups could compete for government grants.

A series of laws, regulations and court decisions have tried to ensure that the faith-based partnerships don’t violate the Constitution. For example, tax dollars may not be used to fund proselytizing. But the issue of religious hiring remains one of the most contentious questions. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its regulations banned discrimination in hiring but granted faith groups an exemption, allowing them to hire on the basis of religion. But Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says federal funding should change the calculus.

LYNN: Whenever government money enters the picture, then the civil rights rubric of our country is you don’t get to discriminate anymore. If you’re engaged in federal work with federal money, you really have to play by the same rules as everyone else. You don’t get to be a bigot, you don’t get to discriminate, you don’t get to select people for a job or fire people from a job because of their religious beliefs or orientation.

post02-carlsonthiesLAWTON: Stanley Carlson-Thies heads the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, which helps faith-based groups protect their identity and practices. He says the law allows religious groups to create an organizational philosophy as other federally funded entities do.

STANLEY CARLSON-THIES (Executive Director, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance): I think the faith groups see it as, you know, like a Democratic senator hires Democrats for his or her office, and environmental groups hire environmentally sensitive people, and so on, and they say hey, we’re a faith group, it’s faith that motivates us, defines us, so we’re looking for people who are, share that faith.

LAWTON: Carlson-Thies sees this as an issue that pits an individual’s rights against institutional rights. He says for faith groups it’s not discrimination in the traditional sense.

CARLSON-THIES: It’s not that they think of this as you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, we’re going to keep you out. No, it’s more do you share the things that motivate us? Do you have the same set of values? Do you have the same set of behaviors?

LAWTON: On the presidential campaign trail in July 2008, candidate Barack Obama visited a Christian youth program in Zanesville, Ohio, and promised that his administration would continue partnerships between faith-based groups and the government. But he said there would be a few caveats.

post03-religioushiringPRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: First, if you get a federal grant you don’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can’t discriminate against them, or against the people you hire, on the basis of their religion.

LAWTON: When President Obama set up his White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, many civil rights groups expected to see all religious hiring preferences banned in federally funded programs. That hasn’t happened. Instead, Joshua DuBois, head of Obama’s faith office, has outlined a different course.

JOSHUA DUBOIS (White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, in speech): With regard to the issue of co-religionist hiring, hiring discrimination hiring, it’s a difficult topic and one that where there are very clear and strong opinions on both sides. The president has decided to take a case-by-case approach, and as difficult legal issues arise he wants me to work with the White House counsel, with the attorney general, to explore those issues and give him a recommendation.

LYNN: A case-by-case basis is like saying, well, maybe Rosa Parks may be in the front of the bus; other African-American women, they get into the back of the bus. There is no way to deal with fundamental civil rights issues on a case-by-case basis.

LAWTON: Both Carlson-Thies and Lynn were on a task force about government partnerships for Obama’s Faith Advisory Council. But the hiring question wasn’t allowed to even be part of the discussion. It’s an issue of deep concern for many faith-based charities, including Helping Up in Baltimore. The residential addiction recovery program has about 400 homeless addicts who live here for at least a year. They go through a 12-step program and receive counseling, medical help, job training, and Bible study. Executive director Bob Gehman says faith is crucial in the program’s effectiveness.

GEHMAN: Many of our men here have tried other programs, and they’ve come to us because they particularly like the faith-based ingredient that we have here. It offers them the kind of hope that they need in order to get beyond all the failures that they’ve had in the past.

LAWTON: That was the case for Michael Anthony Gross, who came here after three decades of cocaine and heroin addiction.

post05-religioushiringMICHAEL ANTHONY GROSS (Helping Up Mission): When I was in detox, I talked to a gentleman, and he recommended the Helping Up Mission, and he spoke about the spiritual basis that, you know, the program is run on, and I come to know that after all these years that’s what I was missing.

LAWTON: The mission’s internal surveys have found that two years out, almost 80 percent of the men who complete the program are still drug-free and employed. The program accepts men from all religious backgrounds, and leaders say religion isn’t imposed on anyone. The men may opt out of chapel or Bible study, but if they do they must attend another 12-step-style meeting. Tom Bond is Helping Up’s program director, who in 2002 came here himself as a homeless addict.

TOM BOND (Helping Up Mission): The whole faith and recovery both are highly unique. What we do is we just try to kind of create a platform and a vehicle for these guys to succeed and make things available to them and let them figure things out for themselves, not force it on them.

LAWTON: Gehman says the mission has been careful not to use any public money for the explicitly religious parts of the program. But he says hiring people who share the mission’s faith is central to maintaining its identity. If the government makes nondiscrimination a condition, they wouldn’t be able to accept public funding, and he says that would give other groups an unfair advantage.

post06-gehmanGEHMAN: It really gives secular organizations a real power-edge, because they’re fully funded. They can build their buildings, they can develop their programs, and the faith-based organizations are left to have to raise their own money, which is becoming increasingly difficult.

LAWTON: Indeed, says Carlson-Thies, if the administration changed the longstanding policy, many charities from across the religious spectrum may be forced to end their partnerships with the government.

CARLSON-THIES: It’s not that we just say, well fine, if you want to walk away, walk away, because this implicates billions of dollars and a big volume of services.

LAWTON: One organization that might be affected is World Vision, the largest US-based relief and development group. World Vision has been taking federal funds since 1983 and last year received more than $300 million in cash and goods from the government. The Christian group wants to maintain the right to consider religion in its hiring. World Vision’s chief legal officer told me his organization has never discriminated among its recipients or engaged in illegal hiring practices. But, he said, if the policy changes and World Vision can no longer partner with the government, “the losers would be children in need around the world and American taxpayers.”

LYNN: Scientific studies certainly don’t prove that World Vision is the only group that can help the poor around the world, nor does it suggest that the best charities at home are those that have a religious title affixed to their name.

LAWTON: Under strong pressure from both sides, the Obama administration has been reluctant to clarify its position or make any changes, and White House officials declined to comment for this story as well. But with several court cases moving in the pipelines, the issue isn’t going away.

I’m Kim Lawton in Washington.

  • Nancy

    I’m VERY unhappy with the people here in Okla. that are supposed to be helping people in the Crisis center and others. They MAKE them sit thru a sermon and charge money for baths and water to wash things and who are they to treat the people like that??? Especially when they treat the illegals better and give the programs and money when they break the laws to get in here!!! Those so-called preachers ought to go to jail! They don’t know GOD at all when they HATE their neighbor. They certainly hate GOD too! Remember that when GOD punishes you demons.

  • Annie Kolattukudy

    why is it ok for native american tribes who take federal money, to hire tribal members, and not ok for religeons to practice their hiring this way. Are they not both illegal then? Tribes get away with it, so should churches.

  • Joi Ellis

    Because tribes are sovereign nations, not religions. They have human rights and treaty rights, and what money they’re getting from the US Government today is a pittance compared to what the tribes lost when we white Europeans invaded the continent and stole all of their resources. Our government has broken every treaty made with the tribes and the courts have done little to remedy the situation.

    I don’t want one cent of my tax money going to so-called religious groups because they are the greatest purveyors of bigotry and hate on this planet, and the American variety is especially poisonous.

  • John E.

    I would like to know what part of the establishment clause President Obama does not understand when it comes to using our tax dollars to fund faith based initiatives. As a former Constitutional law professor, he should know better…

  • Hypatia

    Obama turns out to be just another politician, not the catalyst for “change” that his soaring speeches promised. He has backed away from almost everything he promised to undertake.
    The Christian Right continues to offend on so many grounds: Electioneering from the pulpit; discrimination in hiring; and of course the HORRIBLE HORRIBLE practice of persecuting service members, even in Iraq/Afghanistan, if they don’t want to participate in Fundamentalist Christian programs! Please consider joining Military Religious Freedom Foundation, whose guiding spirit is Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran who is leading the charge against this unConstitutional practice. Full info at his Web site: .

    BTW, you’ll notice that at Jewish institutions, there are blacks and Asians and, and, and.. working, because the Jews actually believe in obeying the law, which prohibits discrimination in hiring.

  • Laurel Landes

    I do not want one cent of my dollars to go to any faith based organization. Period.

  • Ed George

    It all began with the chartable-choice clause in the welfare reform legislation signed under Clinton. The clause, masterminded by John Ashcroft, allowed religious organizations to compete for government welfare money. One of the provisos was that both secular and religious organizations would operate under the same set of rules that applied to a welfare workforce comprised of government employees. That included being blind to race, religion, creed, and lifestyle orientation in their hiring practices and dissemination of benefits to the needy. Unfortunately, some religious organizations and politicians have ever since sought to bend the rules.

    If a religious organization fears identity loss, then the simple answer is not to cultivate a dependency on government funding. It seems to me that if a religious organization’s hiring biases and social theory really result in a successful product, then the word would have gotten out a priori and the influx of private donations would suffice without government funding. That’s the way it was before the charitable-choice clause. What happened, a new culture of chronic dependency on government welfare money?

  • Dakotahgeo

    Joi Ellis says: “….
    I don’t want one cent of my tax money going to so-called religious groups because they are the greatest purveyors of bigotry and hate on this planet, and the American variety is especially poisonous.”

    Sadly, Joi, you are correct. Today’s churches have veered so far off the path they had been called to that they have turned into businesses, and high end businesses at that. Should Christ return to earth today, there would be a general House-cleaning in Christianity, the likes that have never, and would never be seen. I’ve seen it firsthand, and I can back up your story. Sad, but very, very true.
    Dakotahgeo, M.Div. Pastor, Chaplain (Ret.)

  • Brian Williamson

    The Constitutional threat the Faith-based Initiatives pose is to our participation in public trust rights established under Article 6 of the US Constitution. The quote “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or pubic Trust under the United States.” in the last paragragph of Article 6 from the booklet “The Constitution of The United States” by the National Archives, Washington, DC; make asking for such a requirement by the public funded Faith-based groups unconsitutional.

    They have two currently valid option aside from an amendment, drop the restriction fight or become solely privately funded.

  • Fritz

    This issue is far simplier than the speakers’ comments suggest. Of course religious orgs can decide to hire those who agree with their point of view. The Democratic Party, for example, does the same thing on a political level. As a separate matter entirely, the establishment clause prevents the government from funding religious organizations, regardless of their hiring poliies, etc. The two issues are compleely independant of each other and one does not influence the other.

  • Richard

    I am not big on funding religious organizations, but does not every nonprofit have their own “religion” or set of beliefs that they live by? Mr. Lynn’s organization seems to hold the passionate “religious belief” that religion has no place in the public sphere whatsoever. And, those here who talk about the hatred fostered by religious groups (and I have seen it) seem to possess their own hatred for religious groups. “An eye for an eye and we all go blind.” Many people seem to have become driven by negative passion these days. We wound others with our wounds.

  • Chuck

    Barry Lynn… give me a break… Someone actually seriously listens to this guy. … The second this guy was brought into the conversation, the credibility I was giving this piece went right out the window. Lynn has an agenda and he would love to see all Christian ministries bankrupted regardless of what he says. In this piece, he argues for people of any faith to be able to participate in another faith’s mission, but what he really means is that any non-Christian faith practicioner should be able to work for a Christian organization so that it can help castrate the Christian message of that organization. If it was a Muslim charity, and a Christian wanted to join, Lynn and his gang would be either 1) silent if there was opposition to allowing the Christian to join, or 2) condemning the Christian for even considering this because it would just him trying to “force his religion on others.”

  • Chuck

    OK, don’t post my comments. So, “The Christian Right continues to offend on so many grounds: Electioneering from the pulpit; discrimination in hiring; and of course the HORRIBLE HORRIBLE practice of persecuting service members, even in Iraq/Afghanistan, if they don’t want to participate in Fundamentalist Christian programs!” Just a comment without a shred of evidence cited to back it up. This isn’t inappropriate or hate speech? But, my comments regarding Barry Lynn are…. hmm? Public Broadcasting System… yeah right. Got it.

  • Carolyn

    Interesting interview and interesting comments. I would like to remind some of you that all faith-based organizations are not part of “the Christian right”. If faith-based organizations are cut off from federal funds if they hire based on faith/religious points of view, there are many, many worthwhile organizations that would go under or their efforts curtailed significantly. I can name a few right off the top of my head….World Vision, the Salvation Army, Catholic Relief Organization, support for single mothers through many churches, orphanages, missions like Helping Up Mission located in most cities, Covenant House ministries to runaway children, many ministries to HIV patients. The responsibility to meet these needs would fall back on local communities. You cannot judge all faith-based groups on a few that you might know that you dislike. I thought the examples given about a Democratic senator hiring democrats or an environmental organization wanting to hire environmentally sensitive people was a good comparison. If we deny faith-based organizations from hiring based on faith-based views, we deny them their very core and purpose. Would we expect a Catholic ministry to orphans to hire an atheist? I think not!

  • Mandi

    I agree Carolyn. It’s also quite hypocritical. Perhaps we should consider that the members of the faith-based organizations (that, by the way, are just trying to help people) probably don’t like their tax dollars going to organizations like Planned Parenthood or ACORN. It is obvious that private organizations do a better job than the government with helping people. Katrina, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s help there, provided a perfect example of that. Similarly, the Catholic Church has been involved in so many outreach problems and with providing medical care to those in need. So, whether they’re secularly based or faith-based, organizations that are helping those in need should be entitled to allocated government fundind, despite their requirements that employees share their core values.

  • Kathleen Reichard

    IN all this talk about faith based organizations, it seems that there is an attitude of massive discrimination, almost hate-filled remarks about them. They are helping people. They are encouraging those who have not been helped by state and federal funded rehab programs. It is interesting to put “the bad guys” on one side, and put yourself on “the good guys’ side. In reality, we all carry seeds of faith inside ourselves. When we choose to believe in our government, we are faith-based. When we choose to believe in a university, or feeding the poor, or helping in disasters, we step out, by faith, in faith, to believe that we can make a difference in this world. To put “faith-based” ministries on the side of evil in this world and to put yourself on the good side, is not recognizing that your thoughts and feelings about the matter have the potential to hurt others. In this world, if we can help another person up, to be a better person, I say, “go for it!” To rely solely on the history of Christian Crusaders for the current faith based organizations is to choose to be biased. God has created all of us with the freedom to choose and the consequences of those choses. Let’s not judge others, but choose what will lift our brothers and sisters in their struggles.

  • H. (Bart) Vincelette

    Faith based programs do help people, – as long as those being helped are of the same belief system. secular programs have one aim in mind – to help humanity.

  • Channah

    Christians cannot help but preach when they help. Too bad—-it clearly defames all that they stand for….helping people. I am not a Christian, and I would never even consider working for one of their faith based organizations. They cannot look at someone of a different faith without preaching to them. I have no use for them.

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    John E said “I would like to know what part of the establishment clause President Obama does not understand
    which says “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ” Nowhere in the Constitution does it mention ‘separation of Church and State’ The fact those five words do not appear in the Constitution and neither is there any prohibition of government funds being provided to religious organizations to provide charitable and social assistance to the needy in the Constitution or any other founding documents. Laws are being used now to defy the Constitution and prohibit religious organizations from exercising their Constitutional right to free exercise of their religion.

  • Nicole Neroulias

    Great story, but I think it let World Vision off way too easy — “consider religion in its hiring” is a pretty mild way of putting it, given the hefty requirements posted on their job descriptions. Check out my Belief Beat blog for more details:

  • Daniel

    Many Christian groups are making spiritual war on other faiths. They may be doing good here in the USA but they are creating problems overseas with their proselytization and blatent lies about other faiths. See my blog about the untruths spread by churches about Indian religion– I debunk the untruths. … Until these churches stop I say no government funding should ever reach them. Is America going to send troops to India to clean up the mess the missionaries made there!?

  • J.V.Hodgson

    I think the peoplethat try to justify this are thinking up ethereal and meaningles justifications especially if Federal funds are involved. I like to keep it simple.
    1) No matter what they say it is discrimination and if federal funds are received it is mixing politics and religion one is illegal and the other unconstitutional
    2) Does that mean the only people they will help are those with the same beliefs as them,probably not, so a few so called non believers might help communicate with those they are trying to help, and, presumably you are happy to receive donatons from other non believers in you specific faith.
    3) The best money raiser, financial administrator, psychiatrist or Doctor, or cook etc may not share you religious beliefs so why does that make them ineligible for your organisation to use them. This is clearly nonsense.
    Those are just a few simple examples of why the argument is effete.
    I have two main rules when applying for a job i) I do not answer question as to my religion ii) I do not ever answer questions either employment wise orotherwise as to Political views/voting or/ persuasion. Both of which are between me and my conscience.

  • Elise

    I work with a religious group helping Latino immigrants in Ohio. I’m an atheist. There is room for all people in religious organizations, as long as the mission to help–rather than preach–is maintained. I am so proud of my colleagues’ work, and their vision for a place where everyone is welcome and appreciated.

  • Paul

    Laurel Landes, what are you doing to help people? Probably sitting on your you-know-what.

  • Ray Garcia

    Faith based organizations help ‘all’ people, not just those of the same faith. That is an ‘incorrect’ statement. I was involved in a church that sent many memebers to help during Katrina, helping feed, rebuild, and the like. Unless one isn’t allowed to say “God Bless You” and ask if someone is intersted in prayer, then, there was no proselytizing either. I was unable to go, but I heard no one turned down prayer or help. When you look at the current administration and some of the proposed tax/policy changes, one is to reduce charitable donation deductions. Is it the government that should choose which programs succeed? There is a sad, sad, moral decline in this country.. I pray for those in leadership to return to our foundational principals.