News sources this morning reported that Barack Obama is opening his new office for Faith Based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships. Already there’s controversy. Should church-related agencies that receive tax funding be able to discriminate in hiring, based on sexual orientation or their particular religious beliefs?
An attorney for a Baptist children’s home in Kentucky that fired a woman because she was a lesbian says that requiring his group to hire homosexuals would be like forcing a vegetarian society to employ meat eaters, or making an environmental organization put loggers on the payroll.
As a devout vegetarian, I say hurray. If PETA takes government money, they should practice non-discrimination. But of course PETA is privately funded, and they can hire only lettuce-lovers if they so desire.
When tax-dollars are involved, however, the standard is different. Whoever has their hand out for government funding should play by non-sectarian rules. If you want Uncle Sam to pay your bills, you can’t hire only Christians, or Heterosexuals, or Males, or screen out the elderly, or people with disabilities. That’s what equal protection of the law–guaranteed by our Constitution--is about.
WorldVision and other evangelical groups that seek government largesse are demanding the unimpeded right to hire whoever they want. Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the ACLU are threatening lawsuits. President Obama is walking a difficult line, and his new choice for heading the office of Faith Based Initiatives, Josh Dubois, is likely to give offense however he adjudicates this conflict.
Churches already compete for converts, visibility and influence in the public square. When they compete for tax dollars also, the turf wars are just exacerbated. Wouldn’t it be easier to follow a simple rule: no tax funding for sectarian organizations? The more church and state are intermingled, it seems, the more trouble arises.
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