The Right Balance for Religious Freedom

Your December 10 editorial “Hiring Rights and Wrongs” notes several ways in which President Obama’s recent executive order “include[s] important safeguards” for constitutional principles, but you then criticize the president for refusing to deny faith-based organizations the right to hire their staff on the basis of religion. Moreover, you assert that it “was the law” before the Bush administration that a faith-based organization receiving a federal grant could not act in this way.

President Bush did expand the scope of federal grant programs in which faith-based groups could participate, and his Justice Department issued a formal legal opinion supporting the right of faith-based groups to hire on the basis of religion. But faith-based groups that hired on the basis of religion were already receiving federal grants prior to his administration.

President Clinton signed into law four statutes that permitted faith-based groups to receive federal funds without waiving their hiring rights. This approach is consistent with the values of the First Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Indeed, the 1964 Civil Rights Act explicitly allows religious organizations to hire based on faith, a provision that was later strengthened by Congress and endorsed by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling.

A faith-based charity utilizing federal funds to serve the needy must not, as the president’s order states, discriminate on the basis of religion regarding those it serves. But to require a faith-based charity to forego its legally recognized religious liberty as the price of partnering with the government is also religious coercion, and thus equally objectionable.

By essentially leaving this policy in place, the president is indeed striking the careful constitutional balance required.

The writer served on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

The Right Balance for Religious Freedom

Thank you!

This article has been sent!