Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Obama's call for federal support of faith-based groups is tricky; recall the BSA case


Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has brought back what many people viewed as a negative idea in the opening months of the Bush presidency, providing federal support to faith-based organizations that in turn offer charity. The Washington Post story appears today (July 2) on p A03 and has the following link. The story includes a video clip of Obama.

Obama has a proposal for a Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The idea has drawn criticism because often faith-based organizations may want to discriminate against certain people, especially LGBT people, whose cultural values or “behaviors” may contradict that “faith-based” beliefs. In other words, such a practice could bring the ages old conflicts of religion and homosexuality back into some workplaces.

Obama has said that he supports federal legislation protecting gays (like ENDA), as well as lifting the military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. He says that groups receiving federal funds would have to make services available to everyone, not just members of their own groups, and could not make services predicated on listening to religious proselytizing.

It is not clear if he would urge that Congress require such religious groups not to practice discrimination in hiring.

The issue of private groups that use public resources has been well illustrated by the Boy Scouts of America. The Supreme Court had ruled (in Boy Scouts of America v Dale, 2000) (Cornell law school opinion here that the BSA could use its own standards for membership and hiring because it is “private”. Since then, some communities have denied the BSA access to public facilities because of its discriminatory policy. Ironically, Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty had supplied an amicus brief supporting the BSA on libertarian grounds. (for example, here. I recall that the BSA used to show up at job fairs in Dallas for computer programmers back in the 1980s.

My own personal practice is that I do not want to work for religious organizations or for lobbying or special interest advocacy organizations whose beliefs would be contradictory to mine or which would view me as a second class citizen, even if I was protected by ENDA-like laws.

Later today, major media reported on Obama's appearances in Colorado Springs, CO, a generally conservative city, home of "Focus on the Family". Obama appealed to voters their by talking about his proposed strong carrots for national service. Implementing such a program would force the government to think about dealing with gays in other potentially "intimate" situations (my posting June 26), and would hopefully increase the pressure to overturn the military "don't ask don't tell."

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