Unholy Inquisition: Justice Department Says 'Faith-Based' Grantees Can Ignore Anti-Bias Laws Approved By Congress

It is not okay for the United States government to fund public-service jobs and then force applicants to submit to an inquisition to see if they're eligible.

Say you're a social worker in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and you've just heard about a new U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) program intended to keep kids out of gangs. You hop down to the local agency running the project to put in an application.

While there, the agency staffer hands you a form to fill out.

It asks, "Do you believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God?"

It goes on, "Do you believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit?"

It inquires further, "Do you believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory?"

Wait a minute, you say to yourself. I'm applying for a publicly funded social worker position, not pastor of the First Baptist Church. This isn't right.

Too bad for you, says the agency staffer. Top lawyers at the Bush administration say you're out of luck.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel has just posted a memo on the DOJ Web site saying "faith-based" agencies can collect government funds and still discriminate in hiring on religious grounds even if Congress has specifically banned such bias in the program in question.

In 2007, a $1.5 million DOJ grant was approved for World Vision even though the evangelical Christian agency hires only Christians of their stripe. The money was intended to help at-risk youth stay out of gangs.

As World Vision's Web site openly states, the agency "hires only those who agree and accept to its Statement of Faith and/or the Apostles' Creed." (The doctrinal points mentioned above come from the World Vision Statement of Faith.)

This all means one thing: taxpayers of all faiths and none are contributing to a federally funded program that hires only Christians of a particular doctrinal bent. And to add insult to injury, the federal legislation funding the program specifically bars job bias of all kinds.

Lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act trumps the anti-discrimination provisions of the legislation in question. Church-state experts say that's nonsense.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told The Washington Post, "There is no reasonable way to read the history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and conclude it permits discriminatory hiring with tax dollars."

Lynn added, "The fight here is over a fairly narrow principle: In the program or activity being funded, must you give the job to the best person or can you use a religious test? . . . If you take money from the government, you have to obey the law."

Lynn told The Times, "The Bush administration has been trying to allow religious recipients of tax dollars to discriminate in hiring. No Congress intended that. The Constitution does not permit it. And this memo is just one more example of this administration subverting Congressional and constitutional intent in pursuit of a forbidden goal: discrimination in hiring."

It's perfectly fine for churches to apply doctrinal tests to clergy and other staff who will be paid from the voluntary donations of the faithful. Nobody expects a Baptist church to hire a Buddhist as its pastor. But it is not okay for the United States government to fund public-service jobs and then force applicants to submit to an inquisition to see if they're eligible.

The Post notes that the Office of Legal Counsel that came up with this "faith-based" outrage is the same one that blessed detainee interrogations that amounted to torture and a warrantless eavesdropping program that nearly provoked a mass resignation of top law enforcement officials.

Maybe we should just be honest and start calling it the Injustice Department.