Atheist Asks Obama Why Faith-Based Hiring Discrimination Still Exists


At last week’s town hall meeting at the University of Maryland, President Obama was asked a question that he probably wasn’t expecting. Amanda Knief, Government Relations Manager for the Secular Coalition for America, demanded to know why Obama hasn’t rescinded the controversial executive order that allows some faith-based organizations that receive federal funding to discriminate against non-believers in their hiring practices.  Obama, perhaps because he was caught off-guard, did not have a good answer.

His response was convoluted, but here’s the gist.  ”It’s very straightforward that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation, and – or religious affiliation,” Obama said. “What has happened is, is that there has been a carve-out, dating back to President Clinton’s presidency, for religious organizations in their hiring for particular purposes … If you have set up a non-profit that is disassociated from your core religious functions and is out there in the public doing all kinds of work, you have to abide generally with the nondiscrimination hiring practices. On the other hand, if it’s closer to your core functions … then you might have more leeway to hire someone who is of that religious faith … I think we’ve struck the right balance so far.”

Which is to say, Obama dodged the question.  The issue is what religious organizations that receive federal funding do with taxpayers’ money.  Private organizations can legally discriminate in hiring based on religion as long as the position has to do with its core functioning (i.e., it can discriminate in hiring clergy, but not in cleaning staff), but clearly, it’s unconstitutional for religious organizations to use federal dollars to fund discriminatory activities.

While he was on the campaign trail in 2008, Obama endorsed faith-based organizations but said that those organizations which performed discriminatory activities should be forced to either give up the discrimination or renounce federal money.  He now seems reluctant to rescind the executive order.  The reasoning behind this is obvious: he doesn’t want to anger supporters who want to retain these discriminatory hiring practices.  But in practice, the policy allows organizations that are not churches to discriminate against non-believers.  For example, as Sarah Pozner points out on Religion Dispatches,

An organization like World Vision, for example, is not a church but a 501(c)(3); it receives federal funding. Its president, Richard Strearns (who also served on the first Advisory Council to Obama’s faith-based office) has long argued that his and other organizations should be able to discriminate against employees, and it has fired employees who denied the “deity of Jesus Christ” and “the doctrine of the Trinity.” Last year, World Vision received over $100 million in federal dollars.

What do you think?  Is Obama “striking the right balance,” or should he rescind the executive order?

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Photo from nmfbihop via flickr.


Thomas M.
Tom M.5 years ago

Tax churches.


pam w.
pam w.5 years ago

Gee....we haven't heard the Tea Party objecting to government money for faith have we? Wonder why?

Jaclyn Johnston
Jaclyn Johnston5 years ago

I don't see why religious organizations should receive money from the federal govt. It is a clear violation of separation of church and state, which is one of the founding principles of our nation. Any 501c3 organization should not be able to discriminate based on anything other than the inability to do the job. Any organization that believes they are religiously or ideologically "supreme" should not receive a 501c3 status.

Guy Kimble
Guy Kimble5 years ago

That's crazy that the church received 100million dollars. That's alot of saving going on for that price. Maybe our goverment needs to focus on this kind of fraud, waste, and abuse. I can understand churches receiving money but 100million dollars. Someone up above must really love that church to get 100million. I think an investigation is in order and the American people can get their money back.

Lilithe Magdalene

What I wonder is what kind of services they are offering to the public that requires state monies - if it is somebody like Bachmann "helping ex gays" then they should not be getting money. But there may be some serious faith based orgs that really are helping people in need, and to be supported by the state obviously is not enough right now, so churches help and their non-profit status obviously goes to help pick up the slack (since we can't seem to keep gov't programs workable enough without some help from rich taxpayers like we should).

Lilithe Magdalene

Steve R - for somebody who touts "Freedom of Expression" on your profile, you seem to want to shut everybody down with some pretty violent language. Calling someone a dumbo is not cool. Saying you disagree, OK, but name calling and shit - that's kinds gross. Just sayn'

@Kaitlin K - yes, but not if they are taking taxpayer money - then another law comes in to play. Laws that go with that money. If the church is unable to comply, they should not be taking taxpayer money.

Ed Gould
Ed G.5 years ago

Mary B:

As to your founding fathers entry. The world is a LOT different today that it was 200 years ago and 200 before that and 200 years before that and .... The constitution had no concept of a lot of things we take for granted everyday (computers and cars and machine guns and...) We can't blame the writers for any of this and we have to face a reality that the the costitution was written as a guiding document and we can only translate it in todays terms using the it as a guide pole(sort of like a living document).
Frankly what the writers thought is of little importance except that they wrote for their day. There are some points in the consitution that we pretty well take as fundemental rights. Yet today there are people that disagree about separation of Church and State is one such issue.
There were several writers that disagreed and several others agreed that the separation should be a brick wall. I am of the latter myself. The swearing in of an official government type person should not use the word "God" should be cut out.
However I can see cases where the government could pay for meals and clothing to a church for distribution (with proviso that it be unrestricted) and I am more or less OK with that given that the proviso be enforcible (there we go with strings). It is no different than a person give a church say 10,000.00 for the poor and the person says only if the person is worthy of it.
There are strings I don't care if its 10K or a million once a proviso i

Edward Allan
Edward Allan5 years ago

(There seem to be two "Eds"!

When it comes to religious matters, religious groups can legally be as bigoted as they want, no matter how much misinformation/disinformation/out-and-out lies that they spread about being "forced" to perform same-sex marriages.

But when it comes to taking taxpayer money -- which NO ONE forces them to take -- or providing services for the general public, that's a different matter.

It's funny (funny strange, not funny "ha ha") that many of the people who object to spurious "special rights" for GLBT people (or women or members of disadvantaged groups) are thoroughly comfortable with "special rights" for religious groups -- tax exemption and tax deductibility, ability to hire as desired, no meaningful financial accountability, relative immunity from prosecution for statutory rape ...

(Oh, and I see that my citation to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act also got truncated.)

Ed Gould
Ed G.5 years ago

Lynne B.:

In an idea world I agree but the churches want to have it both ways and they simply can't. Lets say an administrative position opens and a gay person applies with all the qualifications apply. If the church (and most churches do) does not like gay people (for whatever reason) they reject the gay person then who is going to speak on the persons behalf? The state or is the person going to have to hire an attorney to sue the church. The church has their rights (do they really?) to only hire the people that they want to but the state says you cannot discriminate on the basis of gay/str/bi whatever. Saying it your way closing your eyes says it doesn't exist but we all know it does. SO how do handle it when it happens?

Edward Allan
Edward Allan5 years ago

My message got truncated.

Both George Washington and, of course, Thomas Jefferson made it explicitly clear that they believed in the separation of Church and State, and I think that the overwhelming majority of Americans who are not Christianist Fundamentalist members of the Texas state board of education would agree that they were fairly important and influential members of the Founding Fathers.

I'm sorry to have to be so vehement, and it's not directed at you personally. But you should be aware that the people who are most anxious to inflict their own religious views onto government in the United States know very well that they are telling lies when they claim that separation of church and state is a historic falsity. And that isn't very Christian of them, is it?