Discriminating with Your Tax Dollars

I guess one person’s discrimination is another’s religious liberty.

The most contentious provisions of George W. Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative” were those that proposed to allow organizations doing business with government to discriminate on the basis of religion. The Initiative has largely faded away, but the debate –as we saw yesterday in the Indiana General Assembly–keeps popping up.

Here’s a scenario that may help illuminate the issue: Church X feeds the hungry in a soup kitchen in its basement. If local government pays for both the soup and an employee hired to ladle the soup, can Church X refuse to hire a soup ladler who does not live in accordance with Church X’s beliefs? i.e., an unwed mother, a GLBT person, a Jew?

If Church X were using its own money to run the soup kitchen, it could hire who it wants. It could even require the hungry to pray over their soup. The Free Exercise Clause protects churches from anti-discrimination laws inconsistent with their teachings (it would be ludicrous to insist that Baptists consider hiring an atheist Sunday School teacher). Free Exercise protects Eric Miller’s pastors no matter how extreme their anti-gay rhetoric.

But (you knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?) that’s when they are using their own money. 

When a religious organization has a contract with government–when it accepts tax dollars to provide a secular service–citizens have the right to expect that the service will be provided in a non-discriminatory way. We have a right to insist that people whose salaries we are paying with our tax dollars be protected against discrimination–including discrimination based upon religious dogma.

Most states agree, and most have laws providing that when governments contract with private or nonprofit organizations–including religious organizations–the contractor must agree to abide by the state’s civil rights laws.

Yesterday, Eric Turner tried to change that longstanding practice. Perhaps he was “getting even” for losing the second sentence of HJR 3. Perhaps–as one reporter suggested–he was trying to rescue  Indiana Wesleyan University‘s workforce training contract.  (Turner filed the measure shortly after the state rejected a longstanding workforce training contract with Wesleyan. The attorney general’s office determined language allowing the Christian university to hire in part based on religion violated state law.)

Whatever his motive, Turner proposed amending Indiana’s civil rights law to allow religious institutions doing business with the state to hire and fire employees for religious reasons.

The measure narrowly passed the House Ways and Means Committee, but Speaker Brian Bosma killed the measure shortly after it sparked a heated debate on Twitter. (His experience with HJR 3 may have dampened his enthusiasm for culture war politics.)

Look, if despising GLBT people, or Jews or Muslims or whoever, is really, really important to your religious organization, go for it! Hire people based upon religious criteria, provide services only to people who agree with you, preach your dogma to whoever will listen. No problem.

Just don’t demand tax dollars to subsidize those activities.

No one is interfering with your freedom to discriminate. We’re simply declining to finance it.


  1. My response to A Voucher Family comments in “Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned” fits right into this blog…misuse of tax dollars for religious entities. The 1st Amendment protects churches from government interference but does not protect government from religious interference.

  2. Interesting note from Arizona from the Guardian – “Three Republican Arizona state senators who voted for a bill allowing business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to refuse service to gay people sent a letter to governor Jan Brewer on Monday urging her to veto the legislation.
    Further – “Senators Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs and Steve Pierce sent their letter urging the veto just days after they joined the entire 17-member senate GOP caucus in voting for the bill.
    The bill is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. Pierce said he and the others went along to present a solid Republican front, despite misgivings. The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.

    From the NY Daily News – Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson had a message for the politicians who supported a bill that allows business owners to refuse to serve gays and lesbians.
    “We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators,” the sign read.
    “Funny how just being decent is starting to seem radical these days,” the restaurant commented on Facebook.
    The backtracking by some Republicans seems to have little to do with an ethical reexamination of their souls, but pressure from the business community worried about travel boycotts, by groups, individuals and companies.
    I think there must be a Master Playbook the Religious Right has to find any way to slap down Gay People.

  3. Do AZ business have some new way to correctly identify, for example, LGBT people? Do you have to have “proof” of your sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation or any other potential issue that would be counter to their religious beliefs so they can refuse to serve you? Wow, think of the possibilities for the crooks who sell fake ID’s!

    Have we learned nothing from the horrors of this kind of thinking?
    The whole thing is almost laughable if it weren’t so frightening.

  4. JD , yes there is a way to tell if you are LGBT. If you are a citizen of AZ, you would need an ID. The ID can only be obtained by placing your hand on the Bible, if you burn up you would be LGBT, a witch, a wizard or a vampire. (Warning Liberals could sustain mild burns) Those that do not burn would be issued an ID. If you are not an AZ citizen, then you would be stopped at the border or airport. Once again you would need to place your hand on a Bible. If you do not burn then you would be given a provisional border pass.

    I swear some of Legislators and Governors would feel they died and went to heaven if they could go back to Salem for some real burnings. These Legislators and Supporters of all this Gay Bashing, Woman Bashing and anyone else who is not like “us” are repulsive school yard bullies that physically grew up.

  5. Rocco’s Pizza place was buried in customers this weekend. The weekend local News outlets have shown video from Flagstaff, Tucson and Phoenix about the protests. The Governor just received word from Apple Corporation that their Mesa plant (with 2000 new hires) would not start if she signed that awful stupid bill. John McCain announced he wanted the Gov to veto as well. For once, I agree with the Maverick. What were they thinking?

  6. The tax-exempt status granted to nonprofits, including religious organizations, is a taxpayer-funded benefit. Because nonprofits don’t pay property taxes or taxes on organizational income, taxpayers have to pay more. Yet the nonprofits still get the benefit of public services, such as from firefighters and police. Because nonprofits are always using taxpayer money, they always always have a relationship with the government, and should never be allowed to discriminate against anyone, ever.

  7. My comments were again deleted when I attempted to post them. I will try again and just ask readers to read the article in today’s, 2/27, Star, page A4: “Lawmakers remove religious discrimination proposal” and ask how personal views and beliefs of elected officials can be “slipped into” unrelated bills and too often passed and enacted.

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