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Church execs criticize White House policy on hiring rules

6/26/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph is available.

By United Methodist News Service

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
The Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castanon, program director of children and church-government relations for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, talks with a reporter after a June 25 press conference in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington. Valentin-Castanon spoke against a Bush administration executive order enabling some federally funded religious organizations to make hiring decisions based on a candidate's faith. U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-Va., announced at the press conference the introduction of legislation to overturn provisions of the order. A UMNS photo by Vince Isner, United Methodist Board of Church and Society. Photo number 03-220, Accompanies UMNS #338, 6/26/03
United Methodist officials are voicing support for a bill that would nullify a presidential order exempting some federally funded religious groups from anti-discrimination guidelines in hiring.

U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-Va., announced the legislation June 25, with other members of Congress as well as religious and civil rights leaders present.

President George W. Bush signed the order in December, exempting some faith-based organizations that receive federal funds from adhering to prohibitions against using religion as a criterion in hiring. The order applies to federal agencies providing direct funding to faith-based organizations. It is part of the Bush administration's broader effort to provide equal access to federal funds for social service programs operated by religious organizations.

Since then, the White House has intensified efforts to allow religious organizations that receive federal dollars the freedom to base hiring decisions on a job candidate's faith. On June 24, Bush called on Congress to enact legislation that would do just that and supersede existing state and local laws. The Washington Post reported that the White House has sent a position paper to lawmakers stating that faith-based hiring is part of a religious organization's civil rights.

Jim Winkler, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, issued a statement June 25 expressing support for Scott's bill. "President Bush's executive order will allow faith-based groups receiving government funds to discriminate," Winkler said. "For us, this is not acceptable."

The Board of Church and Society, with offices in Washington, is the denomination's social action and advocacy agency.

Winkler noted that Bush's executive order overturns earlier orders signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941 and President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, "which were meant to create civil and human rights protections for people working for companies under federal contracts."

The Bush administration's action "goes to the heart of our denomination's concern with the charitable choice provisions and the president's Faith-Based and Community Organizations Initiative," Winkler said. The changes "will allow churches and religiously affiliated social service providers, under contract with the government, to discriminate in their hiring and firing practices based on the applicants' faith or lack of faith."

Winkler noted that the denomination's Book of Resolutions states that the church believes "government resources should not be provided to any church-related agency unless it meets minimum criteria." Among those criteria: "Skill, competence and integrity in the performance of duties shall be the principal considerations in the employment of personnel and shall not be superseded by any requirement of religious affiliation."

A statement from Scott's office described the executive order as a "rollback on civil rights protections" that was "unwarranted and unnecessary." "Since the 1965 order, many faith-based organizations have sponsored federally funded programs; they must comply with the same anti-discrimination laws as everyone else."

The Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castanon, a staff executive with the Board of Church and Society, read Winkler's statement during Scott's press conference.

Valentin-Castanon told United Methodist News Service that board executives have met with Bush administration officials a number of times and shared concerns about the faith-based initiative. The board has expressed support for strengthening the relationship between church and government to provide a stronger connection for religious organizations in providing services.

However, providing federal funding to a local church, and allowing the church to discriminate in hiring and firing based on faith, is "not acceptable," he said. "If we want to discriminate, we can discriminate with our own money. … With tax dollars, it is a different ball game."

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