July 22nd, 2011
04:28 PM ET
President Obama signaled Friday he has no intention of rescinding a controversial executive order that permits some faith-based organizations that receive federal funding to discriminate against non-believers in their hiring practices.
The president’s comments on the matter came during a town hall event in Maryland, when a questioner who identified herself as an atheist pressed Obama on statements he made as a candidate in 2008 suggesting he was against permitting discriminatory hiring among faith-based organizations backed by taxpayer dollars.
“It’s very straightforward that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation, and - or religious affiliation,” Obama said Monday. “What has happened is, is that there has been a carve-out, dating back to President Clinton’s presidency, for religious organizations in their hiring for particular purposes.”
A string of organizations called on the president to rescind the executive order last month, including the ACLU and the Secular Coalition for America, of which the questioner was an employee.
Dozens of faith-based groups responded, writing a letter to the president earlier this month maintaining that “religious hiring by religious organizations in the context of government funding simply allows religious organizations to do what secular organizations do while receiving government funding: employ persons who agree with the organization’s mission.”
Speaking Monday, Obama said the current framework provides a good balance.
“I think that the balance we’ve tried to strike is to say that if you are offering - if you have set up a nonprofit that is disassociated from your core religious functions and is out there in the public doing all kinds of work, then you have to abide generally with the non-discrimination hiring practices,” he said. “If, on the other hand, it is closer to your core functions as a synagogue or a mosque or a church, then there may be more leeway for you to hire somebody who is a believer of that particular religious faith.”
Amanda Knief, the questioner, issued a statement after the event saying the president dodged a key point of her question.
“Unfortunately, the president didn’t address the most egregious aspect of this policy – that religious discrimination is occurring on the taxpayer’s dime. Discrimination is wrong in all forms, especially when it is being funded by taxpayers,” she said.
Candidate Obama's comments came during a July, 2800 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, during which he endorsed faith-based programs, but said the beneficiaries of such government aid should be forced to cease all discriminatory practices.
"If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them - or against the people you hire - on the basis of their religion," Obama said then.
Obama issued a separate executive order in 2009, that specifically did not rescind the previous provisions, but instead provided a legal process for organizations to go through in order to ensure hiring practices stay within the boundaries of the law.