Today Chuck Colson gave a commentary for Break Point entitled, “True Discrimination“.  In it he highlighted a invitation that World Vision received from Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to work with gang members in New York City and Washington, D.C.

According to the Department of Justice, there are more than 20,000 gangs and 1 million gang members in the U.S. These gangs operate in all states; they’re active in our inner cities, our suburbs, small towns, and even rural areas.

Given the scope of the problem, the federal government is prepared to work with anyone who can help, including faith-based groups like World Vision.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention proposed giving World Vision a $1.5 million grant to create an anti-gang initiative in New York and Washington, DC.

Given World Vision’s track record in helping people in need around the world, and given also the success of Christian groups like Prison Fellowship—we’ve had peer-reviewed studies that show that we’re effective in reducing recidivism dramatically—this seems like a very good fit.

The only problem is that World Vision, like other Christian groups, insists on hiring, well, Christians. It only hires those who “who agree and accept its Statement of Faith and/or the Apostles’ Creed.” At the same time, Congress has barred “discrimination by federal grant recipients.”

World Vision argued that the application of that ban to its hiring practices would constitute a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of their faith. It claimed that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act prohibited imposing such a burden and asked for a waiver in this one area.

In a memo issued last year, the Office of Legal Counsel agreed to what it called a “narrowly drawn” exception to the prohibition against “discrimination.”

As soon as the memo was published, the usual suspects cried “foul.” Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called it “subverting congressional and constitutional intent in pursuit of a forbidden goal: discrimination in hiring.” The senior legislative counsel of the ACLU breathlessly called it “the church-state equivalent of the torture memos.”

I supported President Bush’s Faith & Community-Based Initiative.  I figured that federal money was already being given to different organizations, and all it did was put faith-based organizations (FBOs) on level ground with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)  that aren’t faith-based.  Under federal grants that are given by the various federal departments it is understood that this money can not be used for “religious activity”  for instance it can be applied to mentoring in the organization I serve, but can’t be used for chaplaincy activities.  It also doesn’t allow programs funded by federal funds to disqualify recipients of the services provided based on faith and gender (obviously age is allowed)  

That is understood by faith-based organizations, and staff and volunteers are trained accordingly.  This still allowed for (in the context of my organization) the ability for mentors to share their faith when it is initiated by mentees and lifestyle evangelism.  If FBOs can no longer hire staff or recruit mentors only members of their faith – in the case of World Vision, Christians who subscribe to their statement of faith or Apostles’ Creed, they are no longer faith-based organizations.  Faith or more specifically, a commitment to Christ, is the very reason why World Vision, Prison Fellowship, Serve Our Youth Network and many, many other FBOs make an impact long-term.  It is the basis why they do what they do.

Colson explains:

Well, these and other critics are putting their vision of church and state ahead of actually helping people or serving the common good.

World Vision feeds, clothes, shelters, and provides medical care to poor people all around the world. They are among the first on the ground whenever disaster strikes. Why? Because of their faith. Likewise, their faith is why other groups build homes, minister to prisoners, and feed the hungry, regardless of race, color or creed.

Insisting that they hire people who don’t share their faith is asking them to cut themselves off from what motivates their efforts and makes them effective.

The Civil Rights Code of 1964 allowed this provision for faith-based organizations in section 702:

This title shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, or society of its religious activities or to an educational institution with respect to the employment of individuals to perform work connected with the educational activities of such institution.

So here we have a conflict.  Congress says no.  The Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice says yes.  The ACLU wants no.  One could argue that to prohibit World Vision and other FBOs receiving federal funding from screening staff and volunteers based on faith can (and should) be argued as a violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment (after all, they would cease to be a faith-based organization).

With this upcoming election there is a distinction made on faith-based initiatives by the candidates.  Both support, but during the Saddleback Civil Forum when Rick Warren brought up the 1964 Civil Rights Act provision that I referred to above, he asked, “would federal funding change that?”

Obama said, “the devil’s in the details.”  He said that he would want to be sure that federal funding is not being used to discriminate.  So likely spin answer that alludes to “yes.”   McCain gave a very forceful no.  He understood what was at stake.  He said if he allowed federal funding to change that they “would cease to be effective as faith-based organizations.”

Under an Obama administration it will be likely that many FBOs who do not want to compromise will have to say, “thanks, but no thanks” to federal funding.  The ones that will ultimately hurt are the recipients of the services provided – who need the help, but may not get it if an FBOs resources are limited.  As Colson puts it that “is the cruelest discrimination of all.” 


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