Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hiring Pledges and Faith-Based Initiatives in DC.

Worldwide Religious News reports on the new requirement at Catholic Charities in Washington DC that incoming employees sign a pledge that they will not "violate the principles or tenets" of the church. While Catholic leaders deny that this new requirement is a result of the DC ruling that Catholic Charities can't discriminate against same sex couples, the article notes:

Catholic Charities, one of the region's largest nonprofit organizations, has been trying to develop a way to continue its multimillion-dollar social service partnerships with the District while not recognizing the city's same-sex marriage law, which the D.C. Council approved in December. Employees were told this month that the agency was changing its health-care coverage to avoid offering benefits to its workers' same-sex partners.

And here's the rub of faith-based delivery of social services. How do (federally funded) organizations justly serve a pluralistic society when their employees are asked to pledge discrimination against those individuals the very organization is charged with serving? (As well, denying health care coverage to all employees to avoid inadvertently treating a queer couple who's slipped through the hiring process any bit of equality is absurd and hateful.)

But here is the very position that our governmental reliance on faith-based organizations has put Catholic Charities (and World Vision, see below) and every other doctrinal provider of health care or other social services in: how to serve a society that does not abide by your discriminatory world view? The Catholic Church's conservative leaders have decided to dig in their heels.

From the article:

Salmi said the new language "is more of an expectation than a condition. It's letting people know this is the culture." Asked if that meant employees could speak or act against the church without being fired, Salmi said: "We can't speculate on the hypothetical. It's handled on a case-by-case basis."

A former vice president of the organization's human resources department, however, said the new language appeared to be a change.

"Putting it in a letter and requiring a signature, that's a condition of employment. There's no way to dance around that," said Wayne Swann, who served 3 1/2 years on Catholic Charities' board of directors and an additional four years as its vice president.

On the basis of Supreme Court rulings, President George W. Bush issued executive orders allowing faith-based social service groups that receive public money to discriminate in their hiring practices. As a candidate, President Obama sided with those opposing such hiring limits and vowed to stop them. But since Obama took office, the issue has remained under study by the Justice Department.

Federal and D.C. laws explicitly give religious groups exemptions from bans on religiously based employment discrimination, but some church-state experts point to federal funding statutes -- including those for Head Start and the Workforce Investment Act -- that ban such preferences. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits discrimination in government-funded programs, they say.

"Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for positions to which they can't apply, solely on the basis of their faith," said Dan Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

There is no hard data on the percentage of faith-based social service groups that have religious hiring requirements in an effort to maintain their faith identity. World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief organizations in the world, requires U.S.-based employees to sign a statement saying they agree with the organization's tenets or the Apostles' Creed.

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