I am speaking out about President Barack Obama’s statements regarding staffing practices for faith-based organizations. I am very concerned. From the beginning the President has made it explicitly clear that he advocates government imposed hiring standards for religious colleges and other faith-based organizations. Such State intrusion cannot help but lead to government control of what ideas can and can’t be taught on our campuses. The bottom line is that State imposed hiring practices and the corresponding truncation of religious expression should cause all universities that are Christian, Jewish, or otherwise religious, to be concerned for their very existence
The issue is one of freedom of association in staffing. Since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, all faith-based colleges and universities have had a religious exemption when it comes to hiring faculty and staff. By definition an Evangelical college has always had the right to expect its teachers to be Evangelical, a Jewish college could hire only those who are Jewish, a Catholic school could require its faculty to be Catholic and so on. This has been common sense and common practice. The logical privilege and legal right of a school to refuse employment to those who hold views antithetical to the institution – to its ideological, theological, and historical moorings – to its very mission statement and reason for existence – has been a given. It would be absurd to force a Jewish school, for example, to hire an advocate of Al Qaeda ideology. Students and parents choosing such a school would assume that, by definition, they would not have someone teaching such a worldview
My concerns stem directly from Obama’s own words. The President has explicitly said that an organization benefiting from federal grants can’t make any staffing or hiring decisions “on the basis of religion.” Furthermore, on his official campaign web page Barak Obama has said that under his presidency “religious organizations that receive federal dollars cannot discriminate with respect to hiring for government-funded social service programs; and [faith-based organizations] can only use taxpayer’s dollars on secular programs and initiatives.” In the Saddleback Civil Forum with Rick Warren, Obama commented specifically on Christian colleges and said “When it comes to the programs that are federally funded, then we do have to be careful to make sure that we are not creating a situation where people are being discriminated against [in hiring practices].”
The problem in Obama’s statements is this: Almost every college in the nation – religious or secular – has students who qualify for and receive federal funds in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships. Students have always been able to use these dollars to go to the college of their choice. But Obama’s position clearly indicates that this freedom could be in jeopardy and that students may only be able to use such grants and loans to attend schools that are secular in their worldview and behavioral codes. My question is this (and President Obama does not provide an answer): Will students be prohibited by law from using their financial aid to attend any school that hires faculty in a manner that is consistent with its Christian faith, values and theological distinctions? Will the funding that flows from the student to the institution – funding that has been available since the GI Bill of the 1940s – be averted? Will students lose their ability to attend a Jewish college or a Christian college and will these colleges by default lose a primary source of revenue? If so, hundreds of colleges and universities across the land would be forced into immediate financial exigency and imminent closure.
As far as I can tell, this conversation at this level is unprecedented. At no time in our history has the religious and intellectual freedom of the academy been held up to such ambiguity. Does it really make any sense to require Christian organizations to hire those who explicitly deny Christian orthodoxy and explicitly violate Christian orthopraxy? Does it make any sense to force a Jewish University to hire someone who denies the tenets of the Jewish faith and perhaps even denies the historicity of the Holocaust? Shouldn’t the academy continue to enjoy its historical freedom to engage in a “liberal” and robust exchange of ideas unencumbered and unimpeded by State intrusion?
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