A pending bill that seeks to bar government funding for non-profits that have a religious requirement in their hiring process is a "serious assault" on faith-based charities, said the senior vice president of the world's largest network of Christian communicators.
The SAMHSA Modernization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5466), sponsored by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (R-R.I.), threatens to cut valuable social services provided by faith-based groups, wrote Craig Parshall, the National Religious Broadcasters' senior vice president and general counsel, to members of the network last week .
"[T]his bill represents a serious assault on non-profit faith groups as it threatens to cripple faith-based humanitarian and charitable organizations," he added.
According to Parshall, the proposal, which is expected to lead religious groups into opting out of government funding rather than changing their hiring policies, does not make sense given that faith-based groups are widely recognized for providing local social services that are more cost-efficient and higher quality than those provided by the government.
"In an age where the American people seem to be telling the federal government to stop spending, and the government's counter-argument is that our society is hurting for services, why in the world would we want to cripple the faith-based charities" that provide services at low coasts, questioned the NRB leader.
While H.R. 5466 currently targets faith-based groups working in the mental health and substance abuse fields, NRB said it has reliable sources that say some Members of Congress would like to expand the bill to encompass all faith-based non-profit groups.
The Christian communicators association fears that its members, which include humanitarian groups such as World Vision, will be forced to hire atheists to administer Gospel-inspired relief work.
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that World Vision has the right to hire staff based on religious beliefs. The court concluded that the organization is legally and publically acknowledged to be a religious institution and is thus exempt from the Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts prohibiting religious discrimination.
That same week, more than 100 religious organizations signed and sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to reject H.R. 5466. They pointed out that the Title VII 1964 Civil Rights Act allows some situations when an employer can discriminate on the basis of a protected trait that is necessary for the operation of the business or organization.
They also emphasized how they only want to be given a fair chance to apply and compete with secular social service providers for public funding. In the letter, faith-based groups affirmed their adherence to the law forbidding the use of public funds to proselytize or for any religious activities, and to serve all people of faiths.
"We intend to continue working effectively with government in a constitutionally-sound and proven manner, but only if we can stay faith-based in mission, which means remaining faith-based in those we hire," they stated.
Among those who endorsed the letter were World Vision, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Last week, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), which provides accreditation to some of the nation's leading Christian nonprofits, released a policy position that details the importance of preserving faith-based hiring rights for churches and other religious organizations.
The ECFA position states that government curtailing of religious hiring freedom encroaches on identity and autonomy of religious groups. It also wrongly limits these groups' and churches' ability to faithfully reflect and carry out their religious missions, the accreditation body added.
"This is a violation of the government's obligation not to prohibit the free exercise of religion," the policy states.
ECFA has a membership comprised of nearly 1,500 Christian organizations.
Its statement was released as H.R. 5466 is pending before the House's Committee on Energy and Commerce.