"Our mission statement is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name."
April 12, 2010 3:49 PM   Subscribe

'New employees at World Relief have to prove they are Christians'.. 'They sign a statement of Christian faith and must get a letter of recommendation from their minister before being hired. At most workplaces, that would be illegal. But religious nonprofits, even those that get government grants, get special exemptions. They can hire and fire employees based on their religion or sexual orientation — something other employers can't do.' 'Nationwide, World Relief receives about two-thirds of its $50 million budget from state and federal governments.' Those 'who disagree with the exemptions had hoped President Barack Obama would support the cause. In 2008, as a candidate, Obama promised to overturn the Bush rules.'

The new policy at World Relief has triggered staff complaints and departures by those who see it as discrimination.

""As a Christian, I feel it is my duty to advocate for the most vulnerable," said former legal aide Trisha Teofilo, who left because of the policy. "I believe Jesus would not promote a policy of discrimination.""

""It's legal, but it's ridiculously wrong and un-Christian," said Delia Seeburg, the director of immigrant legal services in World Relief's Chicago office. She plans to leave for a new job in April."

"When Omar Alkalouti was hired to work with refugees at the Nashville office of World Relief in 2007, nobody asked him about Jesus. Alkalouti knew World Relief was a Christian charity. Raised a Muslim, he never felt out of place. And he was surprised at how diverse World Relief's office was. "When I was there it was Muslims and Buddhists and everything," said Alkalouti, now a freelance photographer in Nashville. "It was never 'Join up with Jesus.' I wouldn't have wanted to be a part of that."
posted by VikingSword (105 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmm. I don't think this organization should be trying to have it both ways. If they take public funding, they are out of line to be discriminatory towards members of the public who apply to work for them.
posted by orange swan at 3:57 PM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


I foresee a cottage industry of qualifying people to be Christian developing. You pay me, I tell you are a Good Christian! Business as usual!
posted by greekphilosophy at 4:02 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


greekphilosophy: "I foresee a cottage industry of qualifying people to be Christian developing. You pay me, I tell you are a Good Christian! Business as usual!"

Already exists!
posted by The White Hat at 4:07 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Prove how?
posted by Smedleyman at 4:08 PM on April 12, 2010


Prove how?

Incontrovertible Salvific Assessment. I think they have it in the App Store.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:10 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


VikingSword is correct. If you want to be exempt from following federal and state law, you need to be exempt from receiving federal and state funding.
posted by karmiolz at 4:13 PM on April 12, 2010 [17 favorites]


If only there were some other top-heavy money-grubbing "relief" organisation people could donate their time and money to.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:15 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm ok with this because if I ever start my own non-profit I want to be able to not hire christians.
posted by fuq at 4:25 PM on April 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


orange swan: "Hmm. I don't think this organization should be trying to have it both ways. If they take public funding, they are out of line to be discriminatory towards members of the public who apply to work for them."

This kind of topsy turvy hypocrisy makes all the good they are actually trying to do, a bit harder to accept. And it's something I and a lot of people I know have a hard time wrapping our minds around - I know a lot has been done (and a lot of money and promises exchanged, no doubt) for these practices to become so common, but I'm surprised that no one high on the ladder has really gotten up and said, "Wait a minute, this doesn't make sense." It's disappointing.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 4:27 PM on April 12, 2010


So let me get this straight: in order to prepare adequately for my children's future by ensuring I have many employment opportunities and power over our political process, I should:

1. Form a corporation;
2. Obtain proof that I'm a Christian;
3. Join Scientology.

Have I missed anything, or is that the box set of random crap I have to do to get a drink around here?
posted by davejay at 4:37 PM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pedantry alert: the quote in the title of the FPP is actually attributed to a Major in the Salvation Army. In full context, it reads:

The Nashville Area Command of the Salvation Army asks employees to support their mission. But they hire Christians and non-Christians alike.

What matters most is finding the most qualified person for the job, said Maj. Rob Vincent.

"Our mission statement is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name," Vincent said. "Hiring the most qualified person helps us fulfill that mission."

posted by jquinby at 4:44 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm an ordained minister in the ULC. Send PM for a reference. No charge.

Or you could sign up there for free yourself....
posted by Splunge at 4:53 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


After graduating from Johns Hopkins with a degree in public health, I started looking for jobs at various NGOs. I also happen to be a Jew. Here's what I found:

- I looked at World Relief, no go, obviously.

- World Vision is even worse. It screens its candidates for "Christian Commitment," including:

* Discussion with the applicant of his/her spiritual journey and relationship with Jesus Christ;
* Understanding of Christian principles;
* Understanding and acceptance of World Vision's Statement of Faith and/or The Apostles Creed.

Interestingly, ADRA (7th Day Adventists) and Catholic Relief Services don't require faith screening. ADRA has a stated hiring preference for 7th Day Adventists, but hires others, asking only that that they adhere to the various 7th Day Adventists customs (i.e. no alcohol) and humanitarian beliefs. CRS doesn't discriminate.

I admire the work that World Vision and World Relief do. But I think it's unbelievable and unconscionable that they turn away highly qualified applicants at the door on the basis of their faith (or lack thereof).
posted by charmcityblues at 5:05 PM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Money doesn't operate in a vacuum. Federal dollars go to salaries, infrastructure and some overhead. Well, that infrastructure is used for the charity work, of course, but equally importantly, it also allows other parts of the church to be supported. I wonder what percentage of churches survive thanks to being in effect bailed out with our tax money.
posted by VikingSword at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I guess I'm genuinely curious. Given that a lot of refugees aren't Christian, have there ever been any allegations that these people abuse their power to pressure their clients to convert to Christianity? Because if you're the kind of person who overtly practices religious discrimination, I sort of don't understand why you wouldn't.
posted by craichead at 5:11 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is pretty bad stuff, and it's reasonably common in the not-for-profit sector. In Australia, there is a very well-known (arguably the most well-known international aid charity in the country) that is predominantly religious. I have not worked there, but have worked in the sector, with people who have, and I have been told that - though they are _not_ allowed to ask if you're christian in a job interview - there are in fact a host of question aimed at determining this should you be interviewed.

Once you start work there is, of course, the daily prayer everyone is asked to participate in.

Whilst religious aid of all denominations has helped a huge amount of people in need all over the world - and continues to do so on a daily basis - I feel uncomfortable with "protein biscuits from Jesus". There are many religious aid orgs that do try and keep the proselytising to a minimum, but there are just as many who don't.

One thing that is quite interesting is looking at the spread of Islam through aid in places like Papua New Guinea (very successful) and mark the strong resemblance to exactly how christianity through aid was spread (sometimes in the same areas, natch) a few decades previously. I get the impression that a lot of these christian aid organisations would be quite uncomfortable knowing their muslim brethren was doing the same thing, but better.
posted by smoke at 5:11 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those 'who disagree with the exemptions had hoped President Barack Obama would support the cause. In 2008, as a candidate, Obama promised to overturn the Bush rules.

Is it too early to use the "Surely this..." meme with Obama?
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:13 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


One thing that is quite interesting is looking at the spread of Islam through aid in places like Papua New Guinea (very successful) and mark the strong resemblance to exactly how christianity through aid was spread (sometimes in the same areas, natch) a few decades previously. I get the impression that a lot of these christian aid organisations would be quite uncomfortable knowing their muslim brethren was doing the same thing, but better.

It's called branding. Why are we paying federal dollars for their X-tian branding? Two thirds of their advertising budget is paid for with federal money, but no, that's not enough, they also need to stick it to us by not hiring anyone else but their brand folk. Imagine funding the advertising for a company that then refuses to hire people like you. Advertising which is buying them more converts to their brand, and increasing their power.
posted by VikingSword at 5:17 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


On one hand, you don't want significant chunks of public funds funneled towards organizations with religious-focused hiring/involvement practices. But on the other hand, you outright ban that and you're going to limit and possibly hamstring the options the State has when it comes to hiring religious organizations to accomplish a public end.

Maybe that's OK, but if it were me making the rules, I'd probably be more concerned with policy focused on (a) making sure fuq's Buddhist/Hindu/Muslim/Animist/Godless Soup Kitchen had the same level of opportunity to get funds that the Salvation Army did (b) seeing that the ultimate recipients of the service the organization is funded to provide don't have to be proselytized or meet a religious bar to receive said service and (c) ensuring that the organizations getting funds are providing services efficiently (ultimately, that the grant costs are less expensive than having the State create an agency that provides comparable services itself).
posted by weston at 5:21 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Make government funded non profits add a "Don't beseech, Don't proselytize" policy.

They want to do missionary work? Their congregation can pony up.
posted by hal9k at 5:22 PM on April 12, 2010


Well, Jesus didn't work with non-believers either so I'm sure this practice is scripturally sound.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:25 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm picturing The Apprentice with Jesus in the role of Donald Trump...

Paging Trey Parker.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:25 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


But on the other hand, you outright ban that and you're going to limit and possibly hamstring the options the State has when it comes to hiring religious organizations to accomplish a public end.

Great. Only, isn't there pretty much a consensus on the fact that government agencies have a far better efficiency record of providing social services compared to private charities religious or otherwise? This has been a talking point for conservatives since FDR and before - "we don't need the government meddling and taking our taxes to support the poor or provide social services, let private charity do that and voluntary private charitable initiatives" (which is why they opposed Social Security among other programs). Only the record seems to indicate that charity (even though the government does support it with tax exemptions for charitable work etc.) can never even come close to actually being an effective solution compared to government programs. So, I say, if you want effective solutions - do it directly through government, and not by supporting discriminatory retrograde organizations. If these churches are so charitable, surely they can go ahead and help from the goodness of their hearts, rather looking to slip a hand in the government till but take all the credit anyway - then at least they'll get the credit they actually, you know, deserve.
posted by VikingSword at 5:30 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Local private college I applied to teach for asked for the name of my baptist minister so they could verify me as a baptist in good standing. I wrote I was a lapsed catholic in atheistic standings. They never called me back. :( It's bigotry pure and simple well that and I sponsored a gay abortion drive for people who eat shellfish and wear clothes of different cloths at the campus rectory.

/first part true second part not so much but they still advertise in the local paper for PhD's in biochem et al that can quote Galatians.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 5:36 PM on April 12, 2010


Great. Only, isn't there pretty much a consensus on the fact that government agencies have a far better efficiency record of providing social services compared to private charities religious or otherwise?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I'm interested, as I mentioned in concern (c) in my comment above, so any links you can provide to research supporting that conclusion would be great.
posted by weston at 5:37 PM on April 12, 2010


So, I say, if you want effective solutions - do it directly through government, and not by supporting discriminatory retrograde organizations. If these churches are so charitable, surely they can go ahead and help from the goodness of their hearts, rather looking to slip a hand in the government till but take all the credit anyway - then at least they'll get the credit they actually, you know, deserve.

I don't think it's quite so easy, though. There was an AME bishop interviewed on Speaking of Faith a while back who spoke directly to this issue. In some areas, the most effective safety net is the local church, and when some policy change effectively shifts that load to the church - perhaps by suddenly swelling the ranks of people who need assistance of type XYZ, the church leadership is likely to reach out to the state and say "you know, maybe we should sort of work together on this". I am iPhone posting right now, but the interviewee was the first female leader of a historically black church, and it was quite eye opening to hear about the challenges in exactly this situation.
posted by jquinby at 5:59 PM on April 12, 2010


Great. Only, isn't there pretty much a consensus on the fact that government agencies have a far better efficiency record of providing social services compared to private charities religious or otherwise?

Yes and no. Yes, it's a fact, but no, there's not a consensus. A lot of people deny that fact.
posted by kafziel at 6:05 PM on April 12, 2010


Ah, the interview I mention above is here:

link

ugh, doing HTML on this thing bites.
posted by jquinby at 6:06 PM on April 12, 2010


I guess I'm genuinely curious. Given that a lot of refugees aren't Christian, have there ever been any allegations that these people abuse their power to pressure their clients to convert to Christianity? Because if you're the kind of person who overtly practices religious discrimination, I sort of don't understand why you wouldn't.

This is pretty much the history of Christian mission work.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:18 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, Jesus didn't work with non-believers either so I'm sure this practice is scripturally sound.

I'm not actually sure that's strictly true. The apostles were full of doubts and I'm not sure he ever demanded faith of them.

It wasn't really till after the death and resurrection that they believed. He only asked them to believe the evidence of their senses.

I'm really just thinking about this for the first time, so I may not be correct on this.
posted by empath at 6:22 PM on April 12, 2010


I'm as good as agnostic liberal as you're likely to find. If these people despite their obvious prejudices can actually help people in need they can explain away their continuity problems anyway they'd like.

...oh wait, that was my comment about the Trek reboot. Sorry, nevermind.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:44 PM on April 12, 2010


Craiched, World Vision has actually been accused not proselytizing enough by other Christian groups, because they put relief efforts first. I'm also not sure that World Vision takes any government funds, though they do work with the government in their relief efforts. Finally, I am pretty sure that World Vision gets around hiring discrimination rules by actually being classified as a church, which certainly aren't required to hire non-believers -- at their US headquarters they even hold weekly chapel services for staff.
posted by lhauser at 7:14 PM on April 12, 2010


The way I look to donate to "charitable" organizations is simple. How much goes to the people that they are helping and how much goes to "infrastructure". And how legit are they?

I call 80 / 20 the limit. And even that it too much. But of course that has to do with the size of the organization.

The bigger they are the bigger the cut for the for the org to keep things running. I understand that a larger organization has to pay people to work. Not everyone is a volunteer.

BUT.

I don't think that any organization that has a boss with a huge salary is legit. Even if they are a long standing business. Non-profit doesn't mean no salaries. But huge salaries at the top are problematic.

Al Sharpton's National Action Network and Scientology come to mind. I'm sure that there are a lot more.

If someone is sued because there a question about how they use their funds. I won't give them a dime.

Prove that you didn't use the fund as a slush fund. Or fuck you.
posted by Splunge at 7:26 PM on April 12, 2010


Well, Jesus didn't work with non-believers either so I'm sure this practice is scripturally sound.

The H-Bear is teasing, right? Those scripture thingys frequently referred to The Guy preferring the company of 'sinners' to the 'devout'.

(puts on teasing hat)

posted by ovvl at 7:26 PM on April 12, 2010


Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
posted by eddydamascene at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2010


Get the funk up!

BATMAN
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:55 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You see this is why I don't give an extra $1 when I'm at the supermarket to whatever the charity of the week is or to those people I try to dodge on the way into the supermarket or any of the other random charities soliciting at the most of annoying of times.

But that isn't why I don't give. I don't give because I know nothing about most of these charities. And you know what I give to charity, I give a decent amount of cash every year (at least decent amount for me), and before I do that I do research. I make sure my money isn't going to push religion or isn't wasting 2/3 of the money on overheard. I never give to religious charities, ever, because of this type of crap. If I was asked to give a $1 at the checkout to World Relief I would have no idea that it was a religious charity. Nothing jesusy in the title and the name makes it sounds like it might even supports a cause important to me, but this is why people need to do research and not just give blindly to whatever charity is asking for your money. You really have no idea what you might be supporting.
posted by whoaali at 8:32 PM on April 12, 2010


One might go here were one so inclined.
posted by Splunge at 8:37 PM on April 12, 2010


BTW. Ahem... Is this on...

::taps mike, feedback sound::

Tax the churches. End the deficit.

That is all.


::Walks away shaking head. Nobody listens.::


Might as well masturbate in public.

Again....
posted by Splunge at 8:44 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've worked for World Vision, and a number of my friends have worked for World Relief. So, maybe a little perspective here....

World Vision does take federal money (mainly USAID), but they do it by running it through a division of the organization that's not under the Title VII protections granted to religious organizations. That section of the org can hire non-Christians, and in practice they do (though World Vision does require them to understand that it is a Christian organization and it would behoove them not to do anything really stupid). I think the firewall between the two faded somewhat during the Bush years (I haven't worked there in a number of years), but in practice the organization takes the separation pretty seriously.

And yes, World Vision gets pilloried for being relief first, Jesus second. There was scuttlebutt in evangelical circles for years that Compassion International was the way to give, that World Vision was essentially as Christian as Christian Children's Fund (which, by the by, isn't especially "Christian" in the "we only hire Christians" way.) The head of the organization was famously forced to resign after coming to grief with a staunchly pro-life Congressman over the director's support of dropping the Mexico City Declaration restriction on foreign aid.

The people I worked with at World Vision ranged from hardcore Charismatics to nominal Catholics to megachurch goers to liberal Methodists. This wasn't a bunch of lockstep fundamentalists (though they were there and they were not silent), more a very diverse slice of Christendom. I'm not sure an open atheist would get along there, but I knew some liberal Episcopalians, and they got on fine without getting hassled by their higher-ups.

World Vision is pretty damn well run. 87% of their expenses go to aid and development. When I was there, that was in the mid-60s, so they've really slashed expenses this last decade. They're part of the ECFA, an evangelical organization created in the wake of the televangelist scandals to enforce a code of conduct on Christian organizations. Included with this is a requirement for independent audits.

While the faith-based push of Dubya was certainly inspired by the politics of the Religious Right, the one advantage religious organizations offer over non-religious ones is they have a built-in community that either works/lives with potential clients or they are the potential clients. And they generally are closer to the ground than even local government groups. It may not be ideal, but it's certainly a decent pragmatic choice to work with them. (And keep in mind that even groups like ACORN understood this, choosing to plug into local churches even as they took federal money.)

One important thing to understand, though, is Title VII is federal law, and even if you packed the SCOTUS full of Sam Harris clones they would be loathe to overturn it. Perhaps federal money shouldn't be going near anything even hinting at religion (and I can't wait for the day when someone realizes Baylor and Notre Dame get NIH and NSF grant monies), but the idea that a religious organization can discriminate in employment based on religion is accepted within our Constitutional framework.
posted by dw at 8:48 PM on April 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


hal9k: "Make government funded non profits add a "Don't beseech, Don't proselytize" policy.

They want to do missionary work? Their congregation can pony up.
"

This was in fact a provision of legislation passed by a Gingrich-led majority in Congress under Clinton in 1996, called the PRWOR Act. If you were a religious group who wanted to receive public funding to defray the costs of your social work, you had to prove that no portion of the money was funding proselytizing, and that you were not discriminating against any clients receiving service.

ACLU and many other First Amendment activist orgs protested this portion of the PRWOR loudly, arguing that giving public money to church groups clearly violated separation.

Clinton, hamstrung by Gingrich et al., argued that this was a win-win; private entities could help relieve the social services burden on government, but the rules would protect against proselytizing with public funds.

That protection was gutted by Bush and DeLay in 2001 under the guise of "improvements to charitable choice." Churches could still receive federal funds... only, suddenly, insisting that they treat all comers equally with those public funds was a violation of their right to practice religion.

The whole thing is sickening and reminds me of Charles Durning as the Texas Governor. "oooh, you got to dance a little sidestep..."

The day will come when churches who seek to abuse the government for the benefit of their own ministry instead of the public good will be turned upon. They will find that they have climbed in bed with a partner they can no longer control, and that when the shoe is on the other foot, it doesn't feel so good.

Then, they will cry and moan that Government is oppressing them mightily... and lo, how quickly they will have forgotten that it was Church who wooed and pursued Government back when all the free cash was on the table.
posted by pineapple at 9:05 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Australia, there is a very well-known (arguably the most well-known international aid charity in the country) that is predominantly religious.

smoke, would you be willing to share the name of that organisation? I've been thinking of switching to NGO work, so it'd be good to know who to avoid but I'm only just now learning what my options are. Daily prayer? Shouldn't they be getting some work done?
posted by harriet vane at 9:10 PM on April 12, 2010


In some areas, the most effective safety net is the local church, and when some policy change effectively shifts that load to the church -

Seems like that problem could perhaps by making the government saftey net a little stronger, perhaps?

perhaps by suddenly swelling the ranks of people who need assistance of type XYZ, the church leadership is likely to reach out to the state and say "you know, maybe we should sort of work together on this".

Well, So what? We have a separation of church and state for a reason. Once you start mixing the two, both get corrupted. For example, if a church is getting cash from the government, it obviously has an incentive to support politicians who keep that money flowing. That's of course one of the reasons why republicans are so gung ho on the whole "Faith based" stuff, with taxpayer money going right to churches.

And if churches take over social aspects that could be done by the government, you end up with a lot of problems. Like denying those social services to people they see as "unfit" for example.
posted by delmoi at 9:20 PM on April 12, 2010


Good God, it was sarcasm.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:42 PM on April 12, 2010


I've memailed you, Harriet.
posted by smoke at 9:46 PM on April 12, 2010


isn't there pretty much a consensus on the fact that government agencies have a far better efficiency record of providing social services compared to private charities religious or otherwise?

Absolutely not. You're confusing two entirely distinct points: efficiency and scale.

Many private sector charities are incredibly "efficient" in providing social services when you look at their budgets, and many if not most of them do incredible work. Among other things, they make heavy use of volunteers, which is good for both community involvement and overhead, something the government frequently isn't even able to do due to unionization restrictions. Habitat for Humanity arguably works a lot better for the families it serves than HUD ever did.

But Habitat for Humanity has built 350,000 houses in the last twenty-five years, which now provide housing for 1.75 million people. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development served 1.4 million households in 2008 alone. Private charities' problem isn't that they're bad at what they do or even that the government is better at it, but that there simply aren't enough of them. The reason we "need" private social safety nets is because if it were optional, people wouldn't give enough to support a privately-run social safety net which could reach the same number of people. So yeah, the care private charities provide is awesome, but they're really unlikely to be able to come up with the $800 million my state is going to spend on unemployment benefits or the $6.7 billion we're spending on Medicaid.

This makes some sense, when you think about it. Even the Bible considers giving 10% of your income to be a perfectly adequate level of charitable giving, and most Americans give far less than that. But Social Security, the Mediplans, and unemployment alone require the equivalent of about 24% of your income (half from you, half from your employer). This is a pretty massive undertaking, and there's reason to think that it isn't viable in the long term.*

Again, the problem is not one of efficiency, but one of scale. I'm not one of those people who thinks that the private sector is always better at everything. In fact, I do think that private charities are, in general, better at what they do than public social safety net programs. But I also think that there really isn't any way to have a private sector social safety net, because there isn't any reason to think that people are sufficiently generous to provide enough charitable giving to support a social safety net which would be an adequate replacement for what we've chosen to do via the state.

*How do you spell "fiscal crisis"? M. E. D. I. C. A. R. E."
posted by valkyryn at 4:00 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you want to be exempt from following federal and state law, you need to be exempt from receiving federal and state funding.

Or, to paraphrase: RELIGION HURF DURF. Way to be predictable, MetaFilter.

I'm not going to go through the thread addressing each point, but the basic premise of the argument here just isn't true. All sorts of organizations "receive federal funding" in one form or another which are exempt from some federal laws. This is actually required by the First Amendment.

For starters, it's hardly a neutral regulation for Congress to say that every charity who wants to can receive federal money except for religious ones. That's pretty obviously discriminatory, and I'd hope that most MeFites get that. But it's not really any more neutral to put restrictions on that money which make religious groups unable to accept the money for reasons of integrity. The courts aren't stupid, and won't allow Congress to attempt to circumvent the Free Exercise Clause in this way.

But more than that, charities are non-profits, right? That's certainly a highly preferable financial status. It amounts to a "tax expenditure," the government effectively "spending" money by granting tax relief for certain policy initiatives. It would be pretty obviously discriminatory, in violation of the First Amendment, to grant only secular charities tax-exempt status. So you can't do that either.

I mean, if we follow the line of argument espoused by VikingSword and his cronies, churches would lose all abilities to police their own membership, as many of these decisions are made on explicitly moral categories which the state isn't allowed to touch, e.g. marital status, sexual ethics, gender issues, etc. Now we'd not only be restricting free exercise, but freedom of association, i.e. the ability of a group of private individuals to choose with whom they will associate. The only way a given organization would be eligible for any tax subsidies or federal revenue would be if it is consistently willing to compromise its religious commitments. This is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to prevent.

On the most basic level, VikingSword is arguing that receiving federal funds in any way is sufficient to turn the recipient into a state actor who must abide by all constitutional and statutory restrictions. This is absurd on its face. Does getting the Earned Income Tax Credit mean that you, as an individual, have to follow all federal civil rights legislation? Of course not! That's just crazy. Well, having non-profit status or receiving a portion of the monies that the government spends on charitable subsidies doesn't automatically turn those recipients into state actors either.

Might we please at least pretend to pay attention to the subtleties of law here?
posted by valkyryn at 4:17 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you want to be exempt from following federal and state law, you need to be exempt from receiving federal and state fundingtoo bad.

FTFY
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not actually sure that's strictly true.

The Hamms Bear is joking, but anyway, the exact opposite is true - see the parable of the good Samaritan for a hint that Jesus would take one look at these employment policies and say, 'What?! Are you taking the piss?'. (I'm increasingly sure that, if all this God stuff turns out to be true, His next intervention in human affairs will involve some sort of gigantic holy facepalm.gif.)
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 5:36 AM on April 13, 2010


not a fan of nonprofits in general, and religious nonprofits in particular. i may be a lapsed catholic bordering on atheist, but i had enough christian background to know that christians ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THEIR BROTHERS' KEEPERS. and i don't think christ had a 'foster brother' program--one where a christian is *paid* to keep a brother--in mind when he said that.

if christians want to help each other, great! that's the christian spirit; if christians want to get paid to help someone, that's capitalism & should be treated as such.

my brother's keeper my ass.
posted by msconduct at 5:55 AM on April 13, 2010


This is nothing. In Florida, a key senate committee just approved a bill designed to eliminate the separation of church and state, allowing the state to spend public money freely on religious institutions.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:21 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gosh, with a teaser like a position from Candidate Obama above the fold, I was poised to read about another Obama about-face and endorsement of Bush-era policy. But it seems I was disappointed. Oh well, I'm sure it's only a matter of time.
posted by indubitable at 6:31 AM on April 13, 2010


- World Vision is even worse. It screens its candidates for "Christian Commitment,"

So effing what? Why do we need to get our collective panties in a knot that there are Christian NGOs that want Christians working for them? You think I'm gonna get upset if there's a Jewish / Atheist / GLBT / Islamic / Flying Spaghetti Monster NGO that only wants to hire people who align with their belief structure but are actually doing really positive field work that is changing peoples' lives for the better?

For the record, I work at World Vision now, and can pretty much confirm most of what dw said above about how the organization operates. My specific work is in optimizing our global Supply Chain Management function - basically working on a huge cost-takeout strategy that will allow our operations to run more smoothly and more donor dollars (private, government, or public org - UN et. al.) to be plowed into reaching more beneficiaries more effectively. Improving their quality of life. Not proselytizing, preaching, converting, or anything like that. Just doing the most effective humanitarian work we can. My faith - and I'll admit its not a very mainstream Christian one - plays into my actual work very little, but so what if it did?

At the end of the day our work product is that more kids get vaccinated, or go to school, or get shelter, or eat a full meal. It isn't increasing greenhouse emissions (in fact our Vehicle Fleet Management strategy is working towards green fleets), it isn't creating a credit crisis by toxic lending, it isn't creating wars in countries where there don't need to be ones (in fact we work in many of those situations too, except we're unarmed and there to bring relief, not more suffering). And yet you are going to get hung up on this?

In a lot of the countries WV works in, we do the majority if not all of the actual field implementation on behalf of funding governments / organizations. Pre-earthquake in Haiti we did about 60% of USAID's relief support to the country (CRS was the other 30%, smaller orgs had the other 10%). We had ~400 staff on the ground there before the quake and we were the the organization who was responding in the literally seconds following it. We will still be one of if not the largest org still working there when the rest of the world packs up shop and heads home. WV's been in Ethiopia since the late 70's - longer than any other humanitarian org has had an established office / program there. We distribute the majority of World Food Programme's food disbursements there and in many other food-crises countries as well.

I could go on and on. Implementation of PEPFAR projects, malaria prevention, water programs, the Tsunami response, famine responses, etc. etc. etc.. Spend-wise, WV is the largest private org doing humanitarian work in Africa. They're huge, have decades-long infrastructure and networks developed, and are doing great work around the world, primarily in the very worst places. Most of the world glossed over the news about WFP getting its ass kicked out of Somalia recently - you know who's still there, doing its work in an Islamic culture under the oversight of Al Shabab? Take a guess.

But yeah. Screw them. They hire Christians.

I'm not saying its right or wrong. I don't think Jesus would discriminate like that. Personally there's a lot of other things I'd change about this organization too if I could. But we're going to try and hang organizations doing humanitarian work over something as stupid as this?

We're talking about imperfect organizations staffed by imperfect people, doing imperfect, but pretty damn respectable work. Get some perspective, and get back to me when there's a non-Christian private org of this size doing anything close to the scale that the Christian ones (WV, WR, CRS, etc.) are.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:51 AM on April 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


what dw, valkyryn, and allkindsoftime said. (heh -- I first read dw as du and this made my brain explode a little)... .

I've worked and volunteered in a ridiculous number of churches, NGOs registered at churches, explicitly religious NGOs and secular NGOs in both the US and Canada. Some of them had a more-or-less explicit Christians-only hiring practice. Some explicitly did not. Some were in a grey zone. The quality of the work they did was essentially an independent variable.

In my experience, it's difficult (though by no means impossible) for conservative Christians & conservative Christian organisations to spend any length of time working with folks in need before they begin to recognise that their theology ("Believe on the LORD Jesus Christ and you shall be all better") is seriously deficient. Many conservative/fundamentalist organisations actually refuse to take any government monies whatsoever because they don't want to have to create the firewalls between sectarian activities and government-funded programmes that would then be required of them.

In fact, the US traditionally is on the secular end of things (along with France) when it comes to the separation of church and state. In Germany, there's a government-collected tax that heads straight over to the Church. In Ontario, the province funds a secular school system and the Roman Catholic school system. Yet these places manage not to be fundamentalist hellholes, eh?

On balance, my informed opinion is that on this issue the dangers of church-state interconnectedness are outweighed by the real, positive impact that the Christian social service system has on American society.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:00 AM on April 13, 2010


I'm an out-of-the-closet atheist born and raised who did work at World Vision as a vendor/consultant. That it was a religious organization was perfectly clear. However, nobody pressured, gave me shit, or even asked about my religion or lack thereof. My understanding is that they believe that, if they're just really, really, really good people, someone might, at some point, ask them about Christianity. The biggest differences I noticed working there compared to other places in the tech sector was that a) folks were a lot nicer and b) it was a fuckton more ethnically diverse.

Their average donor, I think, would love to see WV prosthelytizing left and right but, from what I've seen, the folks at the home office are much too professional for that.
posted by stet at 9:02 AM on April 13, 2010


saulgoodman, I don't understand the point of that Constitutional amendment proposal you linked to. Specifically:
The measure would strike language from the constitution that reads, “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination.”

It also seeks to add new constitutional language: “An individual may not be barred from participating in any public program because that individual has freely chosen to use his or her program benefits at a religious provider.
Do Floridians receive some sort of government voucher that they can use to access social services & programmes they need?
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:09 AM on April 13, 2010


As I said in my original post, I admire the work that World Vision, World Relief, etc. do.

That doesn’t detract from my anger over the discriminatory hiring practices of organizations that I, as an American tax-payer, support financially—however indirectly. I also fail to see why an organization that purports to serve beneficiaries without regard to faith or creed—and without proselytizing—needs or even wants to have a religiously homogenous staff.

Many Christian (and Jewish, and Islamic) organizations manage to do good, faith-based, work without discriminating. See Hadassah, The Jewish World Service, CRS, ADRA…
posted by charmcityblues at 9:10 AM on April 13, 2010


Floridians receive some sort of government voucher that they can use to access social services & programmes they need?

Well, yes, we have a school voucher program. As well as countless other innovative and completely incoherent reforms implemented over the last decade and a half to accelerate the process Jeb Bush put into effect for the express purpose of razing Florida's public education system to the ground and replacing it with a system that will teach flat-earth creationism as a credible theory alongside the spurious theories of the atheist scoundrel Charles Darwin.

Jeb Bush, who recently lobbied our current governor Crist to sign a bill that would eliminate teacher tenure and link teacher pay directly to student standardized test performance, is still looking forward to that day when all the state government buildings stand "empty of workers; silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill."
posted by saulgoodman at 9:37 AM on April 13, 2010


charmcityblues, as I tried to make clear in my post, this is the consequence of living in a pluralistic society. Discriminating against those who hold religious convictions with a level of seriousness that affects their policy preferences by denying them the ability to both participate in otherwise publicly available programs while remaining faithful to those convictions is inconsistent with the ideals of pluralism.

You really do have to pick one. Either you're truly pluralist, which means that you're okay with people doing things you don't like, or you should be willing to admit that you're entirely willing to discriminate against those who disagree with you. The one thing you can't do is react to perceived discrimination by discriminating.
posted by valkyryn at 9:40 AM on April 13, 2010


Jeb Bush, who recently lobbied our current governor Crist to sign a bill that would eliminate teacher tenure and link teacher pay directly to student standardized test performance, is still looking forward to that day when all the state government buildings stand "empty of workers; silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill."

Oh, and in case it wasn't clear, what do these clowns think is adequate to the task of performing all these roles that government neither deserves to fill nor is capable of filling?

Well, naturally, it's faith-based charity groups and organizations.

See, once they take over all the government services, it won't technically be theocracy, because there won't be a government left for the churches to run. It'll just be the churches running everything, with the state providing police services and prison labor and little else, just as God intended.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:57 AM on April 13, 2010


The only way a given organization would be eligible for any tax subsidies or federal revenue would be if it is consistently willing to compromise its religious commitments. This is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to prevent.

Valkyryn, you seriously don't get it. I'll explain it to you simply: my tax dollars are going to an organization that discriminates. To which I say, "fuck that". According to your argument, all the Klu Klux Klan has to do in order to force my tax dollars to be spent on it is to open a soup kitchen, to which I also say fuck that.

It's real simple, so pay attention; I don't care what these nonprofits do with their own funds; they can prevent women from having managerial positions, deny aid based on sexual preference, whatever makes their medieval little minds happy. But if they are using MY tax money, if they are using Federal funds, then I most assuredly want oversight on how that money is spent.

Get the picture? If the charities want to act like they're still in the Dark Ages, fine, I won't ask them to compromise their beliefs; on the other hand, they should not be asking me for my tax dollars. Capice?
posted by happyroach at 10:07 AM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


The only way a given organization would be eligible for any tax subsidies or federal revenue would be if it is consistently willing to compromise its religious commitments. This is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to prevent.

No, it's not.

It was designed to prevent any religious faith from being recognized as legitimate or endorsed by the state. As long as the law is applied equally to all religious groups, it's fair. Once you start directing my tax dollars to groups that discriminate in providing employment opportunities to people like me, you are perversely endorsing a discriminatory belief system, and literally taking my money away to pay someone who refuses to recognize my own beliefs as legitimate.

I'm with happyroach 100% here: if your an organization that wants to accept state money, you should be held to the same legal standards that apply to any other use of tax payer money. No discrimination allowed, full stop.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:14 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The one thing you can't do is react to perceived discrimination by discriminating.

But it's not perceived discrimination, it is discrimination. The only reason I am disqualified from employment with these organizations-- despite my education, language skills, and other strong qualificiations-- is my religious faith.

If you took substituted race for religion, you would probably see that this is just not ok.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:27 AM on April 13, 2010


I should probably say something about World Relief too, even though I never worked there. They're pretty much like World Vision, only on a smaller scale and more domestically oriented. My association with them was when they were handling Somali, Eritrean, and Iraqi refugees in the late 90s. I had several friends who worked for them and others who boarded families while World Relief was trying to get them set up in permanent housing and help them find jobs.

The issue with World Relief is actually the same issue that VikingSword et. al. rail against -- purity. Fundamentalist Christian donors want organizations that are pure and spotless and not filled with atheists. To a lesser point, there's a feeling within the evangelical community that people need to share an organization's Christian ethos for that organization to be truly effective. World Vision has straddled that line for years (and it should be noted that they've really had to straddle it since moving to the Puget Sound region, an area with one of the lowest rates of church attendance in the US, about 15 years ago.) World Relief, which gets most of its money from Christian organizations, had to make a choice based on what its donors wanted.

But it is pretty much the same issue with wanting no tax money to go to any organization that even hints at religion. It's this same incessant demand for purity -- that every dollar must go to organizations you believe in. And while it sounds good to all of us, religious or not, to keep our money going only to people who pass our personal purity tests, in the end it's a dangerous road to get too far down.

I don't give money to inefficient charities, ones run by questionable leaders or with questionable practices, or ones who are too focused on a problem I don't see as all that important in the grand scheme of things. But I also give money to Amnesty every month. I don't 100% agree with their politics, but I do agree with their core principles and methods.

Now in government a lot of my money goes to really stupid crappy things, like the Iraq war, or pork barrel spending, or ill-conceived parts of No Child Left Behind. But I also know my money goes to HUD programs, to food stamps, to Medicare, and to public health. I just choose to see the good in balance with the bad and lobby for more good.
posted by dw at 10:28 AM on April 13, 2010


I mean, if we follow the line of argument espoused by VikingSword and his cronies, churches would lose all abilities to police their own membership, as many of these decisions are made on explicitly moral categories which the state isn't allowed to touch, e.g. marital status, sexual ethics, gender issues, etc. Now we'd not only be restricting free exercise, but freedom of association, i.e. the ability of a group of private individuals to choose with whom they will associate.

They can keep their ability to discriminate based on marital status, sexual ethics, gender issues and whatever the fuck they wish - as long as they don't take tax money from the very people they discriminate against. They are free to associate with whomever they wish... on their own dime. A private club is free to restrict membership... but they lose tax exemptions. Go ahead and discriminate till you choke on it - but pay for it out of your own pocket.

The only way a given organization would be eligible for any tax subsidies or federal revenue would be if it is consistently willing to compromise its religious commitments.

You know, it's already outrageous that Churches and religious organizations are tax exempt. I laugh every time I see various religious leaders solicit on TV for donations, tax free, building TV empires from from that money, empires they then use to influence politics in this country, their leaders living in insane and utterly shameless opulence (followers of Christ!). But apparently that's not enough - they also must get direct money from the government. But even that is not enough, they want to get it while maintaing the right to discriminate against those from whom they take the money. And you know what? If your "religious commitments" happen to contravene the law, then the law takes precedence - whether it's polygamy, or smoking peyote, or diddling kids; I see it no different from following laws against discrimination - at the very least while taking money from those they discriminate against.

Yeah, I know - poor oppressed Churches, money from the government taxes paid for by all, may have a string attached or two, like don't ask us to pay for your bigotry. I can't discriminate - my sacred religious commitments are being violated!
posted by VikingSword at 10:47 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


And while it sounds good to all of us, religious or not, to keep our money going only to people who pass our personal purity tests, in the end it's a dangerous road to get too far down.

No, it's not, because until Bush came along with his relaxation of restrictions on funding for faith-based programs, it was a road we had already been down for many decades and guess what? It wasn't all that dangerous.

Revisionist garbage. We were all around to see it when this taxpayer funding first started being extended to religious organizations. We were all around before that, and we know it wasn't all that "dangerous" a condition to be in, so just what is your argument here? Without insulting our intelligence, I mean?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:50 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, churches themselves have no requirement not to discriminate even on the basis of (say) race. If your basic Church of the White Aryan Gospel decides to open a soup kitchen, I think they'd be eligible under current law to receive public funds to operate this specific programme.

This sucks and as a Christian and a progressive and a racial minority I will condemn it until I am hoarse.

But, as odious, hateful, un-Christian and counter-productive as I find that idea, I've got to pull a Voltaire here and defend to the death their right to do it. Even though, as a Christian of colour (ugh, what a disgusting phrase!) I myself would be excluded from their employ.

Point is, the founders of this Republic looked across the ocean and at their own history and decided, no way, no how, no sir, we are NOT going to let the secular courts get involved in adjudicating issues that involve theological distinctions. (Although this does unfortunately happen from time to time: I think specifically of civil courts having to look at ecclesiastical documentation and theories of church governance to decide whether Continuing Anglican congregations have a right to the property of the Episcopal parish they're leaving.)

Please convince me that I'm wrong. I'd love to be able to eat my words.
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:58 AM on April 13, 2010


I just choose to see the good in balance with the bad and lobby for more good.

Let's get serious for a second here. Do you want to know what the Bush faith-based initiatives really were?

They were political patronage. A bribe. Quid pro quo.

To help Bush get elected, conservative pastors in churches all across the country made sure to encourage their flocks to support the Republican party and conservative political causes, and in return, before ever taking office, Bush made it clear to these church leaders that, through the new Faith-based initiatives he was championing, they would all be handsomely rewarded with enough easy cash to expand their youth ministries, to replace their run-down pews with shiny new ones, etc.

In return, churches around the country rallied behind Bush and the conservative cause--at one point, you practically couldn't count the number of church marquees in the South displaying messages with overt political meanings (Like the classic: "Give to God what is Right, Not what is Left"). And what was the result? Churches, in a blasphemous betrayal of Christ's own teachings, becoming cheerleaders for war and intolerance.

In other words, we've already started seeing church authority exerting an anti-democratic influence on our constitutional system and it's only going to get worse until we reverse this trend toward steering public funds to religious organizations. That's the only danger I see.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:10 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


On second thought, I hope some hateful 'church' tries exactly this in my neighbourhood.

I will get a bunch of my church & secular friends together. We will open a rival soup kitchen across the street.

Flying from the awning will be, left-to-right: A US flag -- A UN flag -- A Christian flag -- A rainbow flag -- A 'Don't tread on me' flag. Maybe a Saudi Arabian flag if there's room.

Satanic rock music will be blasting from our kitchen AT ALL TIMES.

It will be awesome.
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:16 AM on April 13, 2010


Point is, the founders of this Republic looked across the ocean and at their own history and decided, no way, no how, no sir, we are NOT going to let the secular courts get involved in adjudicating issues that involve theological distinctions.

No, what they decided was no way, no how, should the state be giving a dime to any explicitly religious institution, regardless of their function, because it might be construed as an official endorsement of a religious organization (and unless you've got conservo-blinders on, it's kind of hard to see how giving tax money to an organization isn't a form of official endorsement).

Hell, that's even the original justification for the Church's tax exempt status, if I'm not mistaken--churches were required to be tax exempt because that kept them outside the revenue generating mechanisms of the state, further reinforcing the separation between state and church.

This has always been understood under the establishment cause, one critical purpose of which, as Thomas Jefferson characterized it, was "building a wall of separation between church and state," giving us the common term "Separation of Church and State" that a lot of dishonest conservatives now try to assert was an invention of "activist judges."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, what they decided was no way, no how, should the state be giving a dime to any explicitly religious institution, regardless of their function, because it might be construed as an official endorsement of a religious organization (and unless you've got conservo-blinders on, it's kind of hard to see how giving tax money to an organization isn't a form of official endorsement).

But at that point, it's my understanding that the Federal government really wasn't involved in providing social services at all. And in those halycon pre-14th-amendment days HAMBURGER, some of the states themselves maintained actual established churches, never mind giving tax money to religious organisations for secular purposes/programmes.

Now, I don't subscribe to originalist doctrine re: the Sacred Constitution (v. 2.27). But I don't that I need to put conservo-blinders on to think that the idea of giving tax dollars to some religious organisations but not others based on their legitimately-held theological doctrines would make Thomas Jefferson do a subterranean pirouette.
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:36 AM on April 13, 2010


But I don't that I need to put conservo-blinders on to think that the idea of giving tax dollars to some religious organisations but not others based on their legitimately-held theological doctrines would make Thomas Jefferson do a subterranean pirouette.

Me neither. The point is we should not be directing any of our tax dollars to any religious organizations for the same reasons we don't take tax dollars from any religious organizations. If we'd stuck with the original understanding of Separation of Church and State, instead of letting Bush undermine the all but explicit intent of the constitution on this point with his faith-based initiative programs, we literally wouldn't be having this argument at all right now.

They might not have been the idealized men of genius our myths have made them out to be, but the founders correctly anticipated that questionable situations bordering on state-sanctioned religious discrimination exactly like the one we're discussing now could only be inevitable if the state and the church were allowed to have anything at all to do with one another.

That's why the wall between church and state was characterized as a wall--because it was supposed to represent an absolute separation. No tax money to religious organizations, no tax money from them; no laws regulating the church's teachings, no laws endorsing any church teachings. Nice and clean and simple. And it worked exactly as intended, too, for over two centuries. Until a bunch of neo-loyalist patricians and their ignorant followers came along and decided it was time to get back to the good old days of the divine right of kings, and then presto, here we are again, having the same tired arguments that the founding charter of our nation was supposed to have settled at the turn of the 18th century.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:19 PM on April 13, 2010


That's why the wall between church and state was characterized as a wall--because it was supposed to represent an absolute separation.

I suspect this is the crux of our difference: to me, the proper relation between secular government and civil-society institutions (including faith-based orgs) means an absolute neutrality, not an absolute separation (in the sense you're referring to, of the state refusing funds to an organisation based on its structure, hiring practices, &c. and not based on the merits of the actual work that it's planning to do with the money).
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:51 PM on April 13, 2010


Let me put this another way.

Suppose that the conservatives of Jeb Bush's stripe got their way, and all non-policing functions of federal and state governments were taken over by faith-based programs and private entities.

Now suppose the company receiving public funds to run the now completely toll-based highways system says, even though it's not a faith-based organization, it doesn't want to hire atheists anymore because it believes them to be unreliable.

Should that be allowed, too? If not, on what consistent legal basis?

Why should the law permit the application of a theologically-based discriminatory belief in one case, while preventing the application of an essentially identical non-theologically-based discriminatory belief in the other?

I'll answer that: it shouldn't, because if it did, it would be granting religious beliefs a special privileged status under the law, elevating religious beliefs above secular beliefs under the law.

to me, the proper relation between secular government and civil-society institutions (including faith-based orgs) means an absolute neutrality, not an absolute separation

But wait--I though we were talking about what the "founders of the republic" thought? At least, that's what I thought you meant when you used the words:

"Point is, the founders of this Republic looked across the ocean..."

Now we're reducing constitutional issues to he-said-she-said style arguments? Why don't we just do an internet opinion poll and let that settle the debate while we're at it?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:56 PM on April 13, 2010


I guess I'm genuinely curious. Given that a lot of refugees aren't Christian, have there ever been any allegations that these people abuse their power to pressure their clients to convert to Christianity? Because if you're the kind of person who overtly practices religious discrimination, I sort of don't understand why you wouldn't.

World Vision (which is the largest, most successful of these organisations) is actually pretty well known for its evangelical programs and origins. They don't do it in a quid pro quo way, refusing aid until conversion, but they will explicitly 'witness' (it's in their mission statement) and let you know that the school you're attending is based on christian principles and the money they use to feed you comes from the love of Christ. Christ has what you need.

To deny the conversion pressures of money, medical care and education is naive. So sod 'em.
posted by Sparx at 1:50 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's why the wall between church and state was characterized as a wall--because it was supposed to represent an absolute separation. No tax money to religious organizations, no tax money from them; no laws regulating the church's teachings, no laws endorsing any church teachings. Nice and clean and simple. And it worked exactly as intended, too, for over two centuries.

This is not entirely accurate. Congressional Chaplains have existed since its formation. The current office holder (#59) is Rev. Daniel Coughlin.

Seven states (Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) still require state office-holders to have particular religious beliefs. Until 1877, the New Hampshire Constitution required members of its State legislature to be Protestants. Oh, and Jews were not allowed to vote in North Carolina until 1860.
posted by zarq at 1:56 PM on April 13, 2010


saulgoodman, I make a legal argument, you respond with an ideological one.

If there were ever two people with less to say to each other than you and I, I haven't heard of them.
posted by valkyryn at 6:04 PM on April 13, 2010


Then churches need to lose their tax exempt status right now. You can't have it both ways.

Valkyrn, what legal argument have you offered? The arguments I offered consisted of citing Thomas Jefferson's own words on the subject of what the Establishment Clause meant for the principle of Separation of Church and State.

I also pointed out here that allowing Faith-Based organizations who receive government funding to discriminate on religious grounds while prohibiting non-faith based organizations from discriminating on religious grounds creates a clear and indisputable double-standard as a matter of legal principle.

Where's your rebuttal to either of those points of legal principle? I haven't seen any principles based argument from you at all actually, and yet, you're accusing me of being doctrinaire? That's a very interesting rhetorical technique.

Seven states (Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) still require state office-holders to have particular religious beliefs. Until 1877, the New Hampshire Constitution required members of its State legislature to be Protestants.

Separation of church and state is a feature of the US constitution--a matter of Federal law-- as well as many state constitutions. Florida's constitution, for example, included an explicit separation of church and state which the inaptly named "Republicans" here are now trying to override (as I mentioned up-thread). Sure, the military employs chaplins, too, but it doesn't fund churches or other religious organizations, nor does it give preferential treatment to one denomination over another. There's a major difference between those two cases, and to pretend that's not obvious is just to dishonest a position for me to indulge.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:55 PM on April 13, 2010


Sure, the military employs chaplains, too, but it doesn't fund churches or other religious organizations, nor does it give preferential treatment to one denomination over another.

For that matter, they don't even give preferential treatment to one religion over another.

For example, here's an interview with a Buddhist chaplain (and I'd point out that Buddhism is considered to be an atheistic belief system).

Actually, this raises a good point: Suppose I started a Buddhist faith-based organization that applied for and received federal funds for doing charity work in impoverished inner city communities. Then suppose that, on the grounds that my religious faith is inherently atheistic, I implemented a policy against hiring Christians, Jews or any other non-atheists.

Would you honestly still be arguing that I should be eligible for Federal funds? What if we had a Buddhist in the White House who gave preferential treatment to Buddhist charities, and they all adopted similar hiring policies?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:51 PM on April 13, 2010


Separation of church and state is a feature of the US constitution--a matter of Federal law-- as well as many state constitutions.

You said (emphasis mine): "And it worked exactly as intended, too, for over two centuries. Until a bunch of neo-loyalist patricians and their ignorant followers came along and decided it was time to get back to the good old days of the divine right of kings, and then presto, here we are again, having the same tired arguments that the founding charter of our nation was supposed to have settled at the turn of the 18th century."

Article six of the US Constitution bans religious tests as a criteria for holding government office. About 1/4 of the states, throughout much of the 19th century, enforce them in their own constitutions despite this. Separation of church and state most certainly did not work "exactly as intended, too, for over two centuries."

Sure, the military employs chaplins, too, but it doesn't fund churches or other religious organizations, nor does it give preferential treatment to one denomination over another.

The chaplains are clergy. They preach to and pray for Congress and our troops. Who pays their salaries? The issue here is that they are employed by the Federal government, not whether our government gives preferential treatment to one faith or the other or not.
posted by zarq at 8:08 PM on April 13, 2010


Article six of the US Constitution bans religious tests as a criteria for holding government office. About 1/4 of the states, throughout much of the 19th century, enforce them in their own constitutions despite this. Separation of church and state most certainly did not work "exactly as intended, too, for over two centuries."

Sure it did. Whenever specific abuses came before the courts, they applied the Separation of Church and State standard and ruled on them in accordance with the principle of Federal Supremacy.

It worked fine as a clear legal principle that left very little room for prolonged contentious debates with the potential to divide Americans against one another.

The chaplains are clergy. They preach to and pray for Congress and our troops. Who pays their salaries? The issue here is that they are employed by the Federal government, not whether our government gives preferential treatment to one faith or the other or not

No, the issue is whether or not chaplains are religious institutions, or churches. They are neither. Pastors are still eligible for social security benefits, too. Ordained ministers can also serve in elected office. However, they cannot engage in discriminatory hiring or firing, nor can they ever be permitted to impose their discriminatory beliefs on others through the instruments of state power (which includes tax revenue).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:20 PM on April 13, 2010


And let me repeat myself, since incessant mindless repetition is apparently required to make even the plainest facts true these days:
Then churches need to lose their tax exempt status right now. You can't have it both ways. [If Separation of Church and State isn't a sufficient basis for denying the benefits of tax revenue to religious organizations, then neither is it a sound basis for granting religious organizations tax exempt status. Especially if they're going to use the federal funds they receive in a way that clearly and indisputably discriminates against non-believers.]

Valkyrn, what legal argument have you offered? The arguments I offered consisted of citing Thomas Jefferson's own words on the subject of what the Establishment Clause meant for the principle of Separation of Church and State.

I also pointed out here that allowing Faith-Based organizations who receive government funding to discriminate on religious grounds while prohibiting non-faith based organizations from discriminating on religious grounds creates a clear and indisputable double-standard as a matter of legal principle.

Where's your rebuttal to either of those points of legal principle?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:40 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Suppose that the conservatives of Jeb Bush's stripe got their way, and all non-policing functions of federal and state governments were taken over by faith-based programs and private entities.

Now suppose the company receiving public funds to run the now completely toll-based highways system says, even though it's not a faith-based organization, it doesn't want to hire atheists anymore because it believes them to be unreliable.

Should that be allowed, too? If not, on what consistent legal basis?


Well, the difference is that it's not physically possible for me to build a toll road that does the exact same thing but with employees of a/theist bent. Whereas there's nothing stopping me founding my own NPO to do the same thing that Fundamentalist Disagreeable NPO does, but with better (all else equal, since from a larger pool) employees.

Suppose I started a Buddhist faith-based organization that applied for and received federal funds for doing charity work in impoverished inner city communities. Then suppose that, on the grounds that my religious faith is inherently atheistic, I implemented a policy against hiring Christians, Jews or any other non-atheists.

Would you honestly still be arguing that I should be eligible for Federal funds? What if we had a Buddhist in the White House who gave preferential treatment to Buddhist charities, and they all adopted similar hiring policies?


Yes. (Well, I hope and trust that my moral compass is steady enough that I'd say so.) I would hope that my atheist fellow-citizens would protest this, and I think that this position would be counter-productive for the charities themselves; but as long as they were genuinely the groups most qualified to use the funds provided for the purposes laid out by the grant parameters...

...as Chairman Miaow might've said: I don't care if Kitteh Charity worships Ceiling Cat, Basement Cat or No Cat, as long as it catches mice.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:33 PM on April 13, 2010


Smoke, I'm really interested in your comment re. Islam in Papua New Guinea. Do you have any links you could point me towards? I was up there just last week and was stunned by the number of competing churches there are in even the smallest villages.
posted by Wantok at 11:11 PM on April 13, 2010


What follows is totally Constitutional Law 101. I'm not going to exhaustively cite here, but get yourself any semi-competent Con. Law textbook and you'll get the entire story in detail. What follows is also what I gestured at above. Apparently I need to spell it out more clearly. So here goes.

Separation of church and state isn't actually a legal doctrine the courts enforce. It's an ideological goal. What the First Amendment actually does is prohibit the government from either discriminating for or against religion. That's what the text actually says. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

As a result, and law which discriminates on the basis of religion is unconstitutional on its face. Laws which even appear to be doing this receive the highest level of judicial scrutiny, called "strict scrutiny." This is the test the court uses any time the federal government attempts to interfere with a fundamental right, e.g. religion, due process, speech, property, or interferes with a "suspect classification," i.e. race.*

As applied to the context of religion, strict scrutiny requires that a statute 1) serve a truly compelling governmental interest, e.g. national security, saving lives, etc., 2) be narrowly tailored to achieve that goal or interest, i.e. be neither over-inclusive nor under-inclusive, and 3) be the least-restrictive means of accomplishing that goal. Some commentators include a fourth goal, namely that the law in question must actually further the goal in question instead of simply gesturing at it while restricting religious practice.

Examples of restrictions on fundamental rights that survive strict scrutiny: a statute prohibiting yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. A zoning restriction which excludes strip clubs from residential areas. A park regulation which has the effect of prohibiting proselytizing after dark because the park closes at dark.

An example of a restriction that would not survive strict scrutiny: prohibiting religious organizations from receiving generally-available federal funding because the engage in protected conduct.

Lets look at the analysis here:

Step one: We already know that religious organizations--indeed, most private organizations of every kind--are exempt from many federal statutes, especially anti-discrimination statutes, which would interfere with their religious practices. There isn't any way that requiring religious institutions to adhere to these rules could possibly survive strict scrutiny. In short, Congress may not discriminate on the basis of conduct protected by the First Amendment.

Step two: Constitutional provisions only apply to state actors, i.e. someone stealing your car is theft, but it isn't a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Similarly, the mob breaking your kneecaps for welching on a debt isn't a violation of your due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, because private citizens are not state actors. This has been true forever.**

Step three: Receiving state money does not automatically transform one into a state actor. There needs to be some actual operational control of an organization by a state official, elected or otherwise, before the Constitution will restrict their actions.

Step four: Here's where the action happens. Because Congress may not directly prohibit religious organizations from engaging in conduct protected by the First Amendment, it may not do so indirectly either by putting strings on monies available to the general public.

Result: Congress may neither prohibit religious organizations from receiving generally-available funds nor regulate protected conduct by putting strings on those funds, and receiving those funds does not subject an organization to constitutional restrictions. Ergo, World Vision can accept federal money while engaging in discriminatory conduct.

This is the state of the law. This has been the position of the Supreme Court for over two centuries, and if anything, the feds can restrict more conduct than they could in the nineteenth century, as the Court has become more comfortable with content-neutral time/place/manner restrictions.

I stand by my original position that World Vision is entirely within its rights to do this and that Congress really can't do much about it. This is what the First Amendment does in practice. You don't like it, pass a constitutional amendment giving Congress the right to abridge the freedom of religion, because that's the only way it's happening.

*Race as a class receives more protection than things like gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. because of the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Congress can pass statutory civil rights based on any category it wants, but these will not be given the same level of protection by the courts as the category of race.

**It's the right answer too, because otherwise there'd be practically no such thing as a private citizen. Every organization and even the vast majority of private citizens receive state money in one way or another, so this is a pretty damned important doctrine.
posted by valkyryn at 4:27 AM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Okay, fine Valkyrn. Then explain to me what why Churches enjoy tax exempt status.

I would say this is justified only on the basis of Separation of Church and State as Jefferson defined it. The reason being that if churches became large revenue sources for the state apparatus, the state would have a powerful economic incentive to give political patronage to the biggest revenue generating church.

I haven't seen any non-ideological argument on grounds other than Separation of Church and State for the current tax exempt status enjoyed by churches and other religious organizations.

So if I accept your claim that the principle of Separation of Church and State is not meant to be a foundational legal principle but rather "an ideological goal" on the one hand, explain to me why we shouldn't demand that churches and other religious institutions across the board immediately have their tax exempt status revoked? If it's an ideological goal only, with no real legal weight, then surely in a time of unprecedented tax revenue shortfalls at both state and federal levels, we can no longer justify the church's remaining on permanent tax holiday.

Also, I would point out, that I don't interpret Separation of Church and State as strictly prohibiting the commingling of religious belief and politics at all. It's literally intended to be a separation of church and state--not necessarily a separation of religion, in the abstract, and state, but a separation of the two kinds of institutions.

Prayer at the beginning of session, for example, isn't necessarily all that problematic for Separation of Church and State. But when actual religious institutions--meaning, churches and off-shoot organizations as corporate entities--begin to benefit from the financial or political support of the state, you run afoul of the principle.

In my view, Jefferson (and the other founders) meant to keep the state as an institution separate from churches as institutions, because both are rivals for political power and social influence, and for that reason, neither should be allowed to subvert the other toward its own ends, because their goals are fundamentally incompatible: churches by their very nature seek to advance a single, dogmatic belief system while the constitutional state was intended among other things to ensure the rights of individuals to worship or not worship as they see fit. Church and state have fundamentally conflicting goals.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:44 AM on April 14, 2010


Step one: We already know that religious organizations--indeed, most private organizations of every kind--are exempt from many federal statutes, especially anti-discrimination statutes, which would interfere with their religious practices. There isn't any way that requiring religious institutions to adhere to these rules could possibly survive strict scrutiny. In short, Congress may not discriminate on the basis of conduct protected by the First Amendment
....

I stand by my original position that World Vision is entirely within its rights to do this and that Congress really can't do much about it. This is what the First Amendment does in practice. You don't like it, pass a constitutional amendment giving Congress the right to abridge the freedom of religion, because that's the only way it's happening.


Then you must also agree that, under your interpretation of law, any non-faith based private entity--like an IT company, for example--cannot be prohibited from being awarded federal contracts and accepting tax dollars even if they openly discriminate against Christians in their hiring practices? As long as the discrimination is based on a religious belief the company owners hold about Christians?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:52 AM on April 14, 2010


Tax-exempt status is not for churches and religious groups exclusively - the IRS guidelines for 501(3)(c) organizations spells out very clearly what activities are exempt:

...charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

Since many of these activities are undertaken by churches operated as 501(3)(c) groups, they maintain the status. To deny a group engaged in these activities on basis that the group is a religious organization would an act of discrimination as mentioned by valkyryn above.

In the IT-firm scenario, I'd suspect that the for-profit nature of the organization would affect the sorts of law to which it is subject.
posted by jquinby at 7:02 AM on April 14, 2010


I don't know, saulgoodman, maybe this is a news flash, but separation of church and state does not actually exist in any source of US law. Jefferson's notes, thoughts, whatever, are not actually binding on anyone. More than that, your understanding about the nature of the First Amendment has nothing to do with its text or subsequent jurisprudence and everything to do with secularist talking points.

Which is why I described what you're doing here as ideological. I've given you what the law actually says and how the United States judiciary, under guidance from the Supreme Court, implements and enforces that law. Your "view," if you'll pardon my impatience, neither comports with two centuries of jurisprudence nor matters a damn. Neither does mine. The people whose opinion does matter, i.e. two centuries' of Supreme Court justices, is basically what I've outlined for you.

So basically our conversation is this:

You: This is an outrage and illegal!

Me: It's actually required by the Constitution.

You: Well it damned well shouldn't be!

There really isn't anything for me to say there, and there's no way in hell I'm going to engage with you on the relative merits of religious organizations' contribution to society. I'm not that stupid, and this is MetaFilter. I've already gotten the anti-religious memo, thanks very much.

But you raise another legal issue: Why shouldn't churches have their tax exempt status revoked? Let me turn it around: why should they? They're non-profit organizations, aren't they?* If Congress wants to create a category of organizations called "non-profit" which operate under certain neutral, accounting and financial criteria, why shouldn't religious organizations be allowed to participate? Indeed, under what possible criteria could Congress exclude them, given how the Supreme Court has always interpreted the First Amendment? Because they're religious? Now you're asking Congress to discriminate on the basis of religion, something explicitly prohibited by the First Amendment.

Let's be honest and stop pretending that this has anything remotely to do with the law for you.** You neither understand nor seem to care much for the history of First Amendment jurisprudence. All you're really concerned about is that somewhere, some religious organization might be getting the same sort of treatment from the state as a non-religious organization. For you, for whatever reason, this is apparently intolerable.
This is why I'm glad we have the First Amendment: to prevent people like you from getting their way. Because make no mistake, that's what the First Amendment is doing here.

*Believe it or not, the IRS is actually pretty rigorous about enforcing tax violations by non-profits, including churches. There's actually a whole section of the tax code devoted to the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) where non-profits who have sources of income other than donations and endowments--rent, sales, etc.--can pay taxes on those sources without losing their non-profit status. They also occasionally approach non-profits that are making too much money and basically tell them to use it charitably or convert to a for-profit. This is why my hometown of 25,000 has a university hospital: the local foundation needed to get rid of $50 million in a hurry. Thinking about non-profit status as a huge scam is just misinformed: there are strict rules, and they're pretty strictly enforced.

**This would be our second significant interaction in about a week, and you're currently zero for two in evidencing significant understanding of the United States legal system. You can call me condescending if you like, I won't argue, but seriously man, whatever it is you do for a living it obviously isn't the practice of law. I don't go around telling you about your job, but apparently you don't feel any qualms about telling me about mine.
posted by valkyryn at 7:22 AM on April 14, 2010


Which is why I described what you're doing here as ideological.

Just answer the point: What is the legal justification, in your view, for churches having tax exempt status?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:24 AM on April 14, 2010


They're a non-profit organization which meets the relevant criteria in the code.
posted by valkyryn at 7:31 AM on April 14, 2010


Which is here. See anything about religion in there? Because I sure don't.
posted by valkyryn at 7:33 AM on April 14, 2010


They're non-profit organizations, aren't they?

You're very good at confusing what should be a fairly simple analysis, I'll grant you that. But you still haven't convinced me that just because the juris prudence isn't 100% consistent, the strong version of Separation of Church and State isn't a legitimate legal theory.

Hell, it's been upheld as a legal principle in dozens of Supreme Court rulings, so certainly, there are qualified legal minds who share the view that Separation of Church and State was originally conceived as a clear-cut legal principle, rather than what you rather vaguely characterize as an ideological goal.

Here's a link that catalogs actual past court rulings on Separation of Church and state so we can ground this conversation at least a bit more in reality, where meanings and facts aren't just shadowy things that shift and dissolve in the light of our clever rhetoric.

Notable, is the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 91 S. Ct. 2105 (1971) ruling:

Established the three part test for determining if an action of government violates First Amendment's separation of church and state:

1) the government action must have a secular purpose;
2) its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or to advance religion;
3) there must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion.


This fails, IMO, on the basis of 3, and arguably 2, if the argument from World Relief is that their mission requires them to represent a decidedly Christian mission.

But that's not even the half of it. Federal law expressly prohibits federal activities that discriminate on the basis of religious belief. When a non-profit organization accepts funds to carry out public works on behalf of the federal government, it is acting in effect as a proxy for the federal government (this is especially true since we've been explicitly replacing what were formerly government services with these faith-based initiatives)--it is a vendor, fulfilling a public service function on behalf of the state. That makes this problematic.

And you're flat wrong about my ideological motives. I honestly believe this is a core constitutional issue, and that more recent developments like the largely unchallenged faith-based initiatives programs Bush established severely undermine the integrity of our secular governmental institutions in an increasingly dangerous way.

And the fact that so many supreme court rulings over the years have also held Separation of Church and State to be a matter of constitutional principle (which I assume you know, given your demonstrated willingness to brag about your authoritative command of the subject of constitutional law) leads me to believe you're the one who isn't arguing from principle, but in defense of a peculiarly slippery ideological posture.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:47 AM on April 14, 2010


They're a non-profit organization which meets the relevant criteria in the code.

So, if BCBS (also organized as a non-profit in many states) began refusing to employ or even cover non-Christians, you believe that would pass legal muster?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:49 AM on April 14, 2010


Also, let me rephrase the question: What legal basis is there for granting tax-exempt non-profit status to religious institutions if not the principle of Separation of Church and State?

Churches are classified as non-profits entities simply by virtue of being churches. Basically, granting them non-profit status is just a way of formalizing their tax exempt status. Being a church is currently defined as one of the conditions that qualifies you for non-profit/tax exempt status. Why shouldn't we change that?

You're argument above, about churches being tax exempt owing to their non-profit status, could just as accurately be rephrased: We don't collect taxes from churches because we classify them legally in a way that doesn't require them to pay taxes. It's tautological.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:16 AM on April 14, 2010


We don't collect taxes from churches because we classify them legally in a way that doesn't require them to pay taxes. It's tautological.

Churches are tax exempt not because they're churches but because they operate in keeping with the tax code. This isn't tautological because when churches or other non-profits stop acting in this way they lose their tax exempt status. I advise churches almost every day that there are certain activities they can't engage in if they want to remain tax-exempt. I already said this. You didn't listen.

And I'm not "confusing a simple analysis." If anything, I'm trying to show that the analysis is, in fact, way more complicated than you think it is. You keep coming back to this whole "separation of church and state" schtick. This isn't a binary analysis, and it's way more complex than the simple "OMFG RELIGION!!11!" flag you seem to want to waive.

Furthermore, as I indicated above, your argument fails at the point where you equate any action done by an organization which receives federal monies with federal activity. In law, this just isn't true. It's just not the way you seem to think it is. I already said this. You didn't listen.

Also, the state of affairs I am describing goes back way before the Bush administration. True, that administration's faith-based initiatives agenda expanded the amount of money being spent there, and certainly reflected the administration's intentions, but those sorts of things have been going on for ever. Catholic hospitals have been accepting Medicare for decades.

I really, really don't think you appreciate the ramifications of your argument. If we imposed the sort of hard prohibition against religious organizations receiving any benefit whatsoever from the state, churches couldn't use roads, Catholic hospitals couldn't accept Medicare, Catholic Worker Houses couldn't connect to public utilities, the FCC couldn't grant broadcast licenses to religious radio stations, Christian schools could not be served by public school busses, the list goes on. In short, it would be almost impossible to operate a religious organization at any level of sophistication beyond a few people meeting in each other's homes. I'd be willing to bet that you're okay with this, but that's the sort of thing we're talking about here: undifferentiated resources available to anyone who applies for them regardless of their religious status. You want to restrict those funds on the basis of protected First Amendment activity. The Constitution will not allow you to do this.

I'm willing to grant that you believe that this is a constitutional issue, and in some sense it is, given the fact that religion is a protected class in the Constitution. But your understanding of how the First Amendment actually operates is flawed. It's true that the Supreme Court has enforced something like separation of church and state on numerous occasions. I'm not arguing the contrary. What I am arguing is that the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from discriminating with respect to religion in any way. You're concerned about the government discriminating for religion, but are entirely content to permit it to discriminate against religion. But the sword cuts both ways, and you're really only wanting to enforce one of the First Amendment's religion clauses.

Make no mistake: I'm not arguing that the federal government is free to directly support religious organizations as such. It isn't. But that isn't what's happening here. The federal government has made monies available for certain specific aid purposes, and any organization who meets a defined set of criteria can apply for an receive those monies. But the First Amendment will not permit Congress to make religion or the lack thereof one of those criteria.

Really though, you need to get yourself a textbook on the First Amendment. The strict scrutiny doctrine developed over years and is one of the most important analyses in constitutional law. I tried to give it a basic going over, but apparently that wasn't enough to get the point across. I'm unable and unwilling to spend more time on this. As I said above: if there are two people who have less to say to each other than you and I, I haven't heard of them.

I'm done.
posted by valkyryn at 8:50 AM on April 14, 2010


I'm not arguing the contrary. What I am arguing is that the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from discriminating with respect to religion in any way.

And I'm arguing a couple of different points that have nothing to do with this. One, that federal anti-discrimination laws explicitly prevent the Federal government or its proxies from discriminating in hiring and the provision of services, and two, that the Establishment Clause and decades of jurisprudence prohibit the Federal government from becoming entangled with religious organizations in exactly the way that the expanded faith-based initiatives programs encourage. Those are separate but closely related arguments.

The federal government has made monies available for certain specific aid purposes, and any organization who meets a defined set of criteria can apply for an receive those monies. But the First Amendment will not permit Congress to make religion or the lack thereof one of those criteria.

I never said it should. It's the discriminatory hiring practices of the organization that are at issue here, not the religious affiliation. A church can form a non-profit that doesn't function as a direct extension of the church, and it's fine if they take federal dollars. But once the purpose of a church affiliated non-profit becomes fundamentally an extension of the church's religious mission--and especially if the organization engages in unlawfully discriminatory hiring practices--it runs afoul of the law.

Either you believe World Relief is or is not a church. If it isn't, then they have no more right to engage in discriminatory hiring practices than any other non-religious organization that provides services on behalf of the federal government. If it is, then it shouldn't be getting federal funds to provide services as that constitutes an unlawful entanglement between church and state.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:08 AM on April 14, 2010


Not really saulgoodman.

The tax exempt status of an organization has little to do with its purpose or its mission and everything to do with its CORPORATE STRUCTURE. There are a number of tax exempt structures that any group can choose to employ for whatever reason they so choose. In fact, I could sell plates of The Most Holy Spaghetti Monster - be touched by his noodly appendage! For the spiritually low price of only $1.99! - as a nonprofit. But selling spaghetti is hardly a charitable endeavor, and it actually would compete directly with other NON tax-exempt businesses trying to sell spaghetti. Tough shit. They pay investors. I don't.

The "exempt charitable purpose" is insanely broad and I would go so far as to say almost irrelevant. That's not the part the code is worried about. They're mainly worried about payments to shareholders/investors.

There's an interesting debate about this going on right now though, because religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations are becoming noticed as market competition (eg. YMCA fitness centers) and a movement is afoot to remove tax exempt status from these organizations because of their impact on the market.

That said, I'm not sure I share valkyryn's view that a broadening of the state action doctrine would completely destroy religion as we know it. We have no trouble extending certain constitutional benefits to individuals and organizations and not others under various circumstances. I think the direct receipt of federal money. Cash. Moolah. Clams. DEMANDS that the government impose certain restrictions on its use and on the organization accepting those funds. I have no trouble seeing a fairly bright line between incidental benefits conferred by the municipal necessities of society and direct monetary support.

We're not turning off the water in churches, just the faucet that spews money.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:11 AM on April 14, 2010


The tax exempt status of an organization has little to do with its purpose or its mission and everything to do with its CORPORATE STRUCTURE.

No, in the case of religious organizations, its the simple fact that they are religious organizations that qualifies them to organize as a tax exempt nonprofit entity.

For example, consider the following from this site discussing the steps necessary to legally incorporate as a tax exempt non-profit and the conditions that apply. One of the conditions that qualifies you to organize as a non-profit is being a religious organization:

A number of items in the articles, however, are important in order to obtain tax-exempt status from the federal government, such as the statement of purpose and statements indicating that the organization will not engage in prohibited political and legislative activitySaid corporation is organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, and scientific purposes, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.

Obviously, there are non-profit corporations that are not religious in nature, but these organizations aren't allowed to discriminate in hiring practices if they provide services on behalf of the federal government either.

Neither should religious-affiliated non-profits. Otherwise, what's to keep anyone from organizing as a religious non-profit in order to discriminate against non-Christians or for that matter Christians in their hiring practices? You don't even have to have a non-commercial mission to organize as a non-profit. You just have to organize in such a way that all potential profits are soaked up by operating costs (which is easy enough to do if you give yourself a massive salary).

Why do we allow churches to apply for federal tax exempt status, qualifying them to organize as tax exempt nonprofits? If not on the basis of separation of church and state, then I can't imagine what else.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:38 AM on April 14, 2010


I mean, greekphilosophy, I see your point, but in order to organize as a tax exempt nonprofit in most states, you first have to qualify for federal tax exemption. We grant tax exemptions to charitable and other public service oriented organizations on the basis that they have a public service mission. We grant it to religious organizations on the basis that they are religious organizations. But what's the underlying legal principle for extending tax exempt status to churches as well as to charitable institutions, etc.? My argument is that the legal status quo of granting tax exempt status to churches implicitly derives from the principle of Separation of Church and State. Maybe there's another justification for the status quo in law, but I don't know what it is. If it's just because that's the law, then why shouldn't we change it?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:57 AM on April 14, 2010


Oh, and here's a link to a bunch of articles on the web arguing for why churches should keep their tax exempt status. You'll note the main argument for tax exemption is various Supreme Court rulings holding up the principle of Separation of Church and State.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on April 14, 2010


I have no trouble seeing a fairly bright line between incidental benefits conferred by the municipal necessities of society and direct monetary support.

I hate to jump back in here, but the line you want to draw isn't as bright as it seems.

The money that religious organizations can get from the federal government, including those that go to faith-based initiatives, has to be spent in pretty specific ways. Congress can certainly impose those restrictions. It doesn't go into the general coffer to support any initiative the organization wants. World Relief can't use federal money for evangelizing any more than an organization which receives a grant to promote access to low income housing can start a soup kitchen. The money gets spent for what Congress wants. If the organization wants to do things on its own it can certainly piggback on the federal grant, but it can't siphon off funds for its own intentions.

So legally speaking, the sort of monies that groups like World Relief have access to are essentially indistinguishable from public utilities. They are programs set up for the benefit of the general public to which anyone can apply. Yes, one involves the direct expenditure of money and one doesn't, but that isn't a distinction with any legal weight to it, given that the First Amendment doesn't actually say anything about funding as such. The relationship between establishment and funding is not one of unity: not all establishment is funding, and not all funding is establishment.

This is entirely in keeping with First Amendment structures. Congress can't deny a qualified organization access to a federal program on the basis that that program is religious--and that means they can't restrict its ability to engage in conduct protected by the First Amendment--but they don't have to give any organization, religious or otherwise, a blank check. Indeed, if you read upthread, you'll see that World Relief has an accounting wall set up between the main, evangelistic work of the organization and the federally-sponsored part.

Furthermore, you aren't reading that section of 501(c)(3) correctly. True, being "religious" is one thing which can preliminarily qualify an organization for tax-exempt status. But the work that does in the law is basically just one way of establishing that the benefits of the organization do not inure to a private individual or group of individuals.* A religious organization does not qualify for 501(c)(3) status solely on the basis of its religious character, it needs to meet a number of other criteria. See here. Specifically, "net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder." Any organization, religious or otherwise, which meets those criteria, qualifies for tax-exempt status, and any organization, religious or otherwise, which starts to look like a money-making operation will receive swift and detailed scrutiny by the IRS. And before you get your panties in a knot about ministers being exempt from taxes, they aren't anymore.

I've said this a million times, but I'll say it one last time and then I really am done. The reason religious organizations are permitted to discriminate is because Congress lacks the authority to regulate against that discrimination by the First Amendment, which also prevents Congress from refusing to include them in programs for which they would otherwise be eligible. Receiving federal money does not make one a state actor either, so federal hiring guidelines don't apply either.

If you don't like the way this is set up, you don't like the way the Constitution is set up. That's just the long and short of it. And don't get me wrong, I think there's plenty about the Constitution not to like. The Founders weren't infalliable. Hell, the Eleventh Amendment was a massive, "Oh, shit!" moment when late-eighteenth-century politicians realized they'd done something they didn't intend to do. But arguing that the Constitution should be different than it is is an ideological argument, not a legal one. I'm not saying that because your position is essentially ideological that it is therefore wrong or impermissible--I'm not entirely comfortable with this sort of use of federal money, to be perfectly honest*--but I am arguing that the legal and constitutional system in which we currently live requires this result. The law doesn't say what you want it to say, so you're arguing for a change in the law, which while a perfectly reasonable thing to do, does not actually refute my arguments.

*There's actually an argument to be made that churches are inherently tax-exempt due to their religious character, i.e. if you construe taxes as burdens, which the courts frequently do, taxing religious activity could arguably constitute an illegal burden on free exercise. But that's an entirely different discussion and not directly relevant here.

**For different reasons, I grant you, but uncomfortable nonetheless. I'm concerned that accepting federal money will make religious organizations too beholden to the state. You don't strike me as probably caring about that, but that doesn't change the fact that we share a discomfort here.
posted by valkyryn at 11:09 AM on April 14, 2010


... and I agree that this is your as yet unsupported legal argument, but I'm obliged to point out that the Supreme Court hasn't actually issued an unambiguous ruling on these specific questions, so it's a moot point.

my unsupported counter-argument remains that precisely this kind of situation is why excessive entanglement with religious organizations has consistently been upheld as constitutionally problematic and why in general faith-based initiatives should be curtailed under the already established legal principle of Separation of Church and State.

posted by saulgoodman at 12:05 PM on April 14, 2010


The conversation is over when the lawyers have resorted exclusively to fine print.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:14 PM on April 14, 2010


Heh. IANAL. But I play one on TV.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:57 PM on April 14, 2010


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