Tag Archives: religious discrimination

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.

 

The Problem with Faith-Based Contractors

There really is no constitutional problem with government contracting with religious organizations for purely secular services. The state can purchase medical care or babysitting or welfare services from any organization, religious or secular, having the capacity to deliver those services in a constitutionally appropriate way–i.e., without proselytizing vulnerable populations, etc.

A problem that is rarely discussed, however, has become painfully obvious in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has announced that it will be “unable” to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city passes a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

So–do we allow religious organizations to make their continued participation in these programs contingent upon the District’s denial of fundamental rights to gays and lesbians? Or to put it another way, can the government give in to demands that its public policies be consistent with the religious beliefs of a contractor?

One of the problems with privatization in general is that too often, it is accompanied by a “hollowing out” of governmental capacity to provide essential services. In such cases, the contractor–secular or religious–has officials by the proverbial “short hairs.”