Our government has a long history of subsidizing the efforts of organizations providing social services. Historically the same laws and regulations applied to both secular and religious groups regarding how government funds were utilized and the hiring and firing practices for such programs. Unfortunately, changes in federal policy under President George W. Bush allowed federally funded organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion in their hiring practices. Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts makes it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or fire any individual because of such individual’s religion. Yet we do not hold salaries paid from government coffers to the same standard.
Religious and secular organizations providing social services to needy Americans should not be relieved of the same non-discrimination policies required of every other federal contractor. Religious organizations have a right to promote their beliefs, and to ask their followers to live lives based on these beliefs. However, when religious organizations request money from the federal or state governments to provide publically accessible social services, they must agree to abide by certain regulations prohibiting discrimination against the very taxpayers who fund such activities. They are not required to apply for or accept these funds if they believe their religious rights will be compromised.
These principles extend to employment protections for LGBT Americans. In 29 states it is currently legal for an employee to be fired solely for their sexual orientation. Every single one of the 21 states with laws protecting employees contains an exemption for religiously affiliated nonprofits. Houses of worship are protected by the Constitution and do not require a legislative carve out, while hospitals and schools should be held to the same equality standards as other employers. No other class of citizens protected by anti-discrimination legislation is subject to such an exemption. Discrimination in hiring and firing on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation is wrong no matter the motivation and laws that put in place exemptions set a dangerous precedent that suggest religion is a valid justification for discrimination.
POLICY RECOMMENDATION: Non-discriminatory hiring practices should be required of any federal or state contractor accepting government funds and laws protecting employees from discrimination should not contain any religious exemptions.