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July 25, 2011

Obama Keeps Status Quo for Religious Hiring

President Obama suggested recently that he does not plan to change an executive order that permits some faith-based organizations that receive federal funding to discriminate in hiring based on applicants' religious beliefs. The comments appear to be the first Obama has made on the issue since his presidency.

A Maryland town hall attendee who works for Secular Coalition for America asked Obama about statements he made as a candidate in 2008 when he said, "If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can't discriminate against them - or against the people you hire - on the basis of their religion."

Obama said said something similar in his remarks Friday. “It’s very straightforward that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation, and - or religious affiliation,” he said.

But Obama also appeared to suggest that he does not plan to rescind an executive order that states that that while federally-funded religious organizations cannot discriminate against beneficiaries, they “may retain religious terms in its organization's name, select its board members on a religious basis, and include religious references in its organization's mission statements and other chartering or governing documents.”

Obama appeared to maintain the status quo.

“I think that the balance we’ve tried to strike is to say that if you are offering - if you have set up a nonprofit that is disassociated from your core religious functions and is out there in the public doing all kinds of work, then you have to abide generally with the non-discrimination hiring practices,” he said. “If, on the other hand, it is closer to your core functions as a synagogue or a mosque or a church, then there may be more leeway for you to hire somebody who is a believer of that particular religious faith.”
Organizations like the ACLU called on the president to rescind the executive order last month while several faith-based groups responded with a letter to Obama.

In 2009, the Obama administration decided to delay a decision on whether religious groups who hire based on the religious background of job applicant can receive federal funding.


My problem with what Obama says on the video is that in making a distinction between activities that are part of a religious group's religious mission and those that are not, he seems to categorize day care centers and food pantries as being in the latter category. The fact is that the religious groups consider these kind of activities as an integral part of their mission. In the case of Christian Churches, historically they have considered these activities as part of their mission to lead people to Christ and see their lives transformed. In the early days of the Salvation Army, those that received help had to attend services. Many 19th century American Churches not only met needs but educated those in poverty to break the habits that kept them in poverty. Many people helped in such a way came to Christ through such Church activity. It is not for the government to tell religious organizations that efforts to help those in distress are not at the core of their religious mission. The ACLU is not concerned about discrimination based on religion but is motivated by a desire to either end all tax exemptions to religious (Christian) organizations or attempt to use tax laws to alter religious organizations to its liking.