Editor’s Note: On Nov. 18, the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on tax-funded religious bias by “faith-based” providers. Alan Yorker, a Georgia man who has personal experience with this type of discrimination, submitted the following testimony into the record.
The issue of religious discrimination in government-funded social service jobs is particularly important to me because I am a victim of such discrimination.
In October 2001, I applied for a job as a psychological therapist with the United Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, Ga. After reading the advertisement placed by the Children’s Home in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I thought it would be the perfect job for me. With over 20 years’ experience as an adolescent and family therapist, over a decade of teaching experience and a number of appointments to state professional committees, I had the right credentials and experience to make a real difference for the children at the Home.
I was pleased to learn the Children’s Home granted me an interview for the position. When I arrived for the interview, I was told to fill out an application form that included a section on religion. It required that I identify: my religion; my denomination, if I were Christian; whether I was a member of a church and for how long and the name, address, and phone number of my church.
The reference section also required that I provide the name, address, and phone number of four references – one of which had to be a minister.
I answered the questions honestly. I identified myself as Jewish, provided the information for my synagogue and included my rabbi of 24 years as one of my references.
After I filled out the application form, the director of social work services at the Children’s Home began my face-to-face interview. Once she read the religion section of my application form, however, she told me, “We don’t hire people of your faith,” and ended the interview.
At first, I wondered if I were on an episode of “Candid Camera.”
And then I was shocked. This was so much worse than the embarrassment “Candid Camera” might cause. This was hurtful and demeaning. I was being told I did not qualify for a job: not because of any lack of relevant training or experience, but because of something intrinsic to me – my religious faith.
I also wondered how the Children’s Home could refuse to hire me based on religion when I knew the children at the Home were frequently placed there by the state of Georgia and it received a significant amount of money from the state. It was painful to comprehend that my own taxes were being used to fund this blatant religious discrimination.
And, I wondered why the Children’s Home had wasted its time and my time in even granting me an interview. The advertisement in the newspaper of public record didn’t say, “No Jews.” But in reality it should have, because I later learned that the Children’s Home’s established practice was to discard resumes from candidates with Jewish-sounding names.
I found this policy particularly astonishing because of my own family’s past experience with religious discrimination. My grandfather, Harry Monjesky, worked for many years as a conductor on the New York Central Railroad. Then, during a recession, the railroad laid off the Jewish and African-American workers first, regardless of their seniority – including my grandfather.
To ensure that our family would, in the future, be judged on merit and not by our name, my father changed our own family name to Yorker. Apparently, this helped me get around the Children’s Home’s policy of throwing out applications from people with Jewish-sounding names. But in the end, I was still a victim of religious discrimination.
In 2002, I sued the Children’s Home and the state of Georgia for religious discrimination. At first, I was reluctant to do so. I was worried how a lawsuit would affect my teenage son, who was just about to start high school. We all know high school can be a difficult time for kids and I was concerned that the publicity of the lawsuit would end up subjecting him to the same prejudice I had faced.
But my son was wise beyond his years. He told me that he knew what happened to me was wrong and that I should do something about it. He was right, and I did.
As a result of the lawsuit, the state of Georgia adopted a clear policy that prohibited religious organizations receiving state funding to provide child welfare services from discriminating against job applicants, employees or volunteers based on religion. I sincerely believe that the federal government must adopt the same policy. As my teenage son told me nearly a decade ago, government-funded hiring discrimination is wrong.