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Austin Cline

Archbishop: Catholics Should Be Allowed to Discriminate with Government Funding

By February 6, 2008

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The Colorado legislature is considering a bill that would change which religious groups can be exempt from non-discrimination laws. Currently the exemptions appear to be fairly broad, but under the proposed rules they couldn't discriminate with jobs funded by the government. So a Catholic hospital could discriminate when hiring people whose positions are religious in nature and which are funded privately, but not when hiring for non-religious positions (like janitors and managers) which are funded publicly.

It only make sense that the government shouldn't pay for a private religious group to discriminate against gays, Jews, Hispanics, atheists, Muslims, etc., and I hope that the legislature passes this bill. If private religious groups want to discriminate, they are welcome to do so with their own funds. For some reason, though, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver is outraged at losing government funding for Catholic discrimination.

The summary of Colorado legislature’s House Bill 1080 (HB 1080) says that the bill “limits the applicability of the exception from compliance with employment nondiscrimination laws for religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies when employing persons to provide services that are funded with government funds.”

The bill itself is short, taking up only twenty three lines.  It amends the present blanket religious exemption by requiring every religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society that “accepts government funds to provide services” to comply with anti-discrimination laws.  As listed in the Colorado Revised Statutes, characteristics protected by the anti-discrimination regulations include “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry.”

Source: Catholic News Agency

Archbishop Chaput has suggested that if the bill passes, he might halt Catholic Charities’ involvement with government programs. Well, what's wrong with that? Chaput is basically right about the alternatives: if they want to be free to do whatever they wish on the basis of their religious doctrines, they have to cut the purse strings connecting them to civil government. That sounds like a good idea to me.

HB 1080, the archbishop believes, would hinder Catholic non-profits from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church. Though recognizing that many non-Catholics work at Catholic Charities, Archbishop Chaput said the bill would remove the ability of the non-profit to maintain a Catholic leadership.

“…the key leadership positions in Catholic Charities obviously do require a practicing and faithful Catholic, and for very good reasons. Catholic Charities is exactly what the name implies:  a service to the public offered by the Catholic community as part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop wrote.

To complain that the government shouldn't attach non-discrimination restrictions to public funds is to argue that there shouldn't be any negative consequences to behavior or attitudes are that are contrary to the principles and values which a democratic government is obliged to uphold. That's just not reasonable. Private organizations can discriminate all they want, but such discrimination is contrary to a democratic government which must uphold the equality of all citizens.

This means that discriminatory organizations shouldn't whine when the government refuses to fund their discrimination. They should decide what is more important to them: the funds, or the discrimination. If the discrimination is more important, then they should learn to accept the fact that they will have to do so on their own, without public support. If the funding is more important, then they should learn to live without discrimination.

The archbishop also said he has heard from Catholics who find HB 1080 “offensive, implicitly bigoted, and designed to bully religious groups out of the public square.”

How is it "offensive" or "implicitly bigoted" for the government to refuse to provide money to a private religious organization to engage in "offensive" and "overtly bigoted" discrimination when making hiring decisions? The government is not obliged to given any approval to the hiring standards of private religious organizations; the government is, however, obliged not to support or fund such standards when they discriminate in ways that the government itself cannot do.

How is it an attempt to "bully religious groups out of the public square" by not funding their private discrimination? Since when have private religious groups needed funding from the government in order to participate in the public square? That's just nonsense — I don't know whom Archbishop Chaput has been hearing from, but he should stop listening to them because they don't have the slightest idea what they are talking about.

February 8, 2008 at 2:30 pm
(1) John Hanks says:

If religions admit that they are godless, then they should be able to advertise themselves like the pentagon does with our money. (Actually, public funds should never be used for such purposes by any enterprise.)

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