Thursday, September 02, 2010

Religious Hiring Rights Threatened

In May 2010, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who has personally battled addiction and bipolar disorder, introduced a bill (H.R. 5466 — SAMHSA Modernization Act of 2010) that would amend Titles V and XIX of the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for the first time in 46 years — and to remove religious exemptions related to hiring for faith-based organizations that receive federal funding.

The bill would outlaw any government funds or contracts with religious organizations that do not agree to "refrain from considering religion or any profession of faith" when making employment decisions. According to the bill, it would affect "licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors, psychosocial rehabilitation specialists, and any other individual determined to be appropriate by the Secretary."

A letter was sent to every member of Congress last week (Aug. 25) from several evangelical charities such as World Vision, the U.S. Catholic Bishops and Orthodox Jews that said the bill "would be catastrophic" to their religious freedom and to their missions to serve the needy. It asked lawmakers to reject any legislation that would "dilute the right of faith-based social service organizations to stay faith-based through their hiring."
"Stripping away the religious hiring rights of religious service providers violates the principle of religious freedom, and represents bad practice in the delivery of social services," said Anthony Picarello, general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The religious leaders say the religious hiring rights can be traced to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and even to the First Amendment of the Constitution. A unanimous 1987 Supreme Court decision also upheld the right of religious organizations to hire people of the same faith, ruling that the practice does not violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Interestingly, on Monday, Aug. 23, a federal appeals court ruled that World Vision, the Christian humanitarian giant, who signed and released the Aug. 25 letter, can fire employees who do not share its theological tenets. (See article below)

Another open letter was sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also urging him not to "dilute the right of faith-based" charities to "stay faith-based through their hiring." Many of the 100 signatories were presidents of small Christian colleges. [,,, Catholic News Service]

Court Rules in Favor of World Vision
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Monday of last week that World Vision, a faith-based relief organization, was free to hire and terminate based on its statement of faith. The case has been closely watched by religious organizations and nonprofits who receive federal funding. The ruling is a result of three World Vision employees who were found to have lied during the hiring process about specifics of their faith and were immediately released. The former employees are expected to appeal the decision. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits religious discriminations; however the court ruled that World Vision was exempt from Title VII of the Act for "a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities."

Steve McFarland, chief legal officer for World Vision, was pleased with the ruling and said, "What's at stake is the religious freedom of every individual and church and para-church organization and faith-based organization in the country. Every member of Congress asks and discriminates against job applicants based on their political persuasion. Even Planned Parenthood asks where your politics are with respect to the sanctity of human life. You can call it the bad word 'discrimination,' but it's called 'free association.'" []

(From FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

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