| 29 December 2010
Opponents of religious hiring by faith-based organizations that receive government funds failed to get the lame-duck Congress to ban “religious job discrimination. Making this drastic change has been a top priority for some activists inside and outside Congress for many months.
Just a few days before Christmas, the lame duck session of Congress passed, and then President Obama signed, a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government—a short bill without any restrictive language on religious hiring. The resolution expires in early March, but the new Congress will not be as sympathetic to measures to curtail this management practice that so many faith-based organizations regard to be essential.
Earlier in the year, Congressman Patrick Kennedy had proposed a bill to reform federal drug treatment programs, and included in the bill not only a ban on religious hiring by recipients of the money but also language cutting off the possibility that religious applicants for the funds could appeal to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to protect their ability to use religion in hiring staff. Rep. Kennedy and others inside and outside of Congress have been furious that President Obama has not carried through candidate Obama’s promise to prohibit religious hiring by all recipients of federal funds, thus making universal a restriction that up to now has only applied in some federal programs. (See this IRFA story about the growing attacks on religious hiring.)
The Kennedy bill went nowhere, so the Continuing Resolution (CR) became the vehicle of choice. Congress has had to pass several CRs this year, being unable to adopt the dozen budget bills it was supposed to pass before October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Opponents of religious hiring planned to get the Kennedy attack on religious hiring and RFRA written into the “must-pass” CR, thus banning the hiring freedom in every program the federal government funds. Many ministries signed onto an August letter protesting this stealth attack on their freedoms.
That letter may have had some influence. And the November election results may have warned off members of Congress who were toying with idea of radically upsetting the applecart—after all, many of the organizations that work with the government to help the needy are religious and regard religious belief and conduct to be essential staff qualifications. Whatever the reason, none of the several CRs that Congress passed, including this last one, had the objectionable language. Thanks go, too, to savvy congressional staff who gave all of the budget measures a very careful reading, and to a multifaith group of Washington DC-area religious freedom advocates who worked hard to educate Congress and parachurch ministries.