White House to Congress: Let religious organizations use religion in hiring decisions
In a position paper released to members of Congress, the White House says "religious hiring rights" are part of faith-based organizations' civil rights, and should not be restricted even if the organizations receive public money.

"When they receive federal funds, they should retain their right to hire those individuals who are best able to further their organizations' goals and mission" says the nine-page booklet, Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-based Organizations: Why Religious Hiring Rights Must Be Preserved. (Weblog can't find the booklet online, but it might later be posted here.)

Whether federally funded religious organizations can use religious criteria in making hiring decisions has been the sticking point on a number of bills lately, from the faith-based initiative bill to a restructuring of the Head Start education program. Opponents claim allowing such hiring distinctions amounts to government-sponsored bigotry, while supporters say it's bigotry not to give religious organizations the freedom to make such employment decisions.

"A secular group that receives government money is currently free to hire based on its ideology and mission," says the White House booklet (according to a Religion News Service story not available online). "Allowing religious groups to consider faith in hiring when they receive government funds simply levels the playing field—by making sure that, when it comes to serving impoverished Americans, faith-based groups are as welcome at the government's table as nonreligious ones."

In fact, the Civil Rights Act of 1972 already gives religious organizations such hiring rights, but other laws apparently contradict this freedom, ordering all federally funded organizations to hire regardless of "age, gender, race, or religion." (Some local laws add "sexual orientation" to the list.)

Whatever the constitutional questions, many faith-based organizations simply won't take federal funds if it means they'll have to hire employees at odds with their mission. "It's been abundantly clear that the religious hiring issue is a real barrier for a lot of faith-based organizations," Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said in a telephone press conference yesterday. "And if faith-based organizations are deterred from providing services, the real losers are the poor."

A front-page Washington Post article about the White House's position paper notes that the timing is exquisite: Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.) hopes to "introduce legislation today that would nullify regulatory decisions by the Bush administration that permit employment discrimination by some religious organizations."

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Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have supported hiring freedoms for faith-based organizations, but never so explicitly as in this booklet. Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, says it's a good thing. "It indicates that they're serious—and they darn well better be, because it's crucial to a whole lot of us," he told the Post. "I think the administration understands that the very identity of faith-based organizations is at issue in hiring rights."

Department of Justice tells school district to allow Bible club flyers
In 2001, Child Evangelism Fellowship's Good News Club made headlines for winning a Supreme Court decision allowing it to use public school facilities. Now it's back in the news. Schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, are are letting the club meet, but barring the distribution of promotional flyers.

"An integral part of CEF's evangelical mission is to locate children who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior," the school district's attorneys say in court documents. "Requiring teachers to force students to accept and distribute CEF's materials would result in the unconstitutional coercion of the students to proselytize on CEF's behalf."

Baloney, says the U.S. Department of Justice. "Through its Good News Clubs, CEF strives to foster self-esteem in youth and to instill morals and character in children while providing a positive recreational experience. … That CEF does these things from a religious viewpoint does not change the fact that its activities meet the [school] board's criteria for inclusion in the take-home folders."

"U.S. courts have generally ruled that if a school district provides an open forum for many different groups, religious organizations must be allowed to use it," notes The Washington Post. It's absolutely right: the only way to bar Good News from sending home flyers is to bar everyone from sending home flyers. Unfortunately, according to the Montgomery County Gazette, the PTA is willing to take that extreme action.

More articles

Church of England debate over gay bishop:

  • Synod keeps gay debate off the agenda | The Church of England's bureaucrats have drawn up an agenda for the forthcoming general synod meeting in York without finding space for any mention of the debate on homosexual clergy raging through the Anglican communion (The Guardian, London)

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  • Dissent over gay bishop spreads around globe | Bishops from Nigeria, Australia, and elsewhere oppose recent actions (The Independent, South Africa)

  • Church of Uganda joins fight against gay bishop in London | Archbishop Livingstone Nkoyoyo says church will wait and see what happens before taking next step (The Monitor, Kampala, Uganda)

  • Sydney bishop does a U-turn on ban | Given the Archbishop of Canterbury's failure over the past 24 hours to condemn the appointment of a gay priest to the Church of England's episcopacy, blacklisting him from the Sydney diocese would be the logical thing to do, said Sydney's Anglican archbishop—but later said it won't be done for the sake of unity (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Church in danger of double split over bishop | Anglo-Catholic priests might leave Church of England if gay theologian Jeffrey John is not appointed as bishop (The Times, London)

  • Anglican unity under threat around world | There seems little common ground between the two camps, and the risk of a profound and lasting schism in the Anglican Church, with Sydney playing a leading role, is now real (Editorial, The Australian)

More sexual ethics and marriage issues:

Missions & ministry:

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Interfaith relations:

  • Three faiths, one God? | Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God? (Carl Feit, Darrell L. Bock, and Jamal A. Badawi, Kansas City Star)

  • Muslims studying American religion | Hosted by Boston College's Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, 16 academics spent one recent weekend, for example, attending Saturday services at Temple Shalom in Newton and heading the next day to the New Covenant Church in Mattapan, an African-American charismatic church (The Boston Globe)

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  • Marrying faiths in Tanzania | At a time when the world religions sometimes seem far apart, Tanzania, in keeping with its peaceful history, sees more than a few marriages between Muslims and Christians (BBC)

  • Christians duped by Muslims? | Reform-minded Islamic sages in the Western world agree on a number of essential points: the affirmation of the pluralistic secular state, the rejection of theocracy and its closed-minded advocates, and the need for an honest dialogue with other religions, especially Christianity and Judaism (Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI)

Crime and violence:


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Religious freedom:

  • How much religious freedom is too much? | Case of Florida woman's refusal to remove veil for driver's license photo raises question of when public interest should trump religious liberty (Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center)

  • Also: Modesty prevents | When religious preference clashes with law, law wins (Lynda Guydon Taylor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • The exception of the church | The Cuban government allows the Catholic Church to publish about a dozen independent magazines, whose content does not have to be authorized or pre-censored (Reporters Without Borders)

Law and courts:

  • Woman cleared to sue city over Jesus sign | Sybil Peachlum has been fighting York City Hall for a decade over a lawn sign with an anthropomorphized peach holding a newspaper with the headline, "Peachy News. Jesus is Alive" (Associated Press)

  • Trial set in zoning restriction on church | Banned from worshiping in an industrial park warehouse, the members of a North Shore church will argue in a federal trial scheduled to start Monday that Northbrook has violated their religious freedom (Chicago Tribune)

  • Clergy to withhold absolution for child abusers | Child abusers who confess to Church of England priests will not be granted absolution until they tell the police or social services under guidelines to be debated by the General Synod next month (The Times, London)

  • High Court passes on Mormon church case | The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear arguments on whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be allowed to limit speech it deems offensive in a park it purchased from Salt Lake City (Associated Press)

  • Blair rejects law to ban smacking | Campaigners hope backbench bill will close 'abuser's loophole' (The Guardian, London)

  • Earlier: Pressure grows over smacking law | Two parliamentary reports out on Tuesday call for an end to the defence of "reasonable chastisement" in England and Wales (BBC, video)


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  • Praying for keeps | Religion plays a central role in the Booty home, and it helped deliver a top quarterback prospect to USC (Los Angeles Times)

  • Spurs are fans of Christianity | Next season the team will be without David Robinson's spiritual leadership, but there are other Spurs who share his faith and have no problem letting the fans know it (San Antonio Express-News)

  • Playing basketball at Duke aids Suddath in sharing his faith | Jim Suddath never has a problem striking up a conversation. All he has to do is mention he played basketball at Duke University for Coach K, and a five-minute chat is guaranteed. That comes in handy when he feels a need to share his faith with someone new. (The Jackson Sun, Tenn.)

  • Players use diamond as pulpit to spread the word | Indianapolis Servants play in the Great Lakes Collegiate League (The Indianapolis Star)

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