Obama Defends Inaction On Job Bias In Tax-Funded ‘Faith-Based’ Programs

President Barack Obama defended his policy on hiring discrimination in tax-funded “faith-based” programs during a town hall meeting in July.

Obama, appearing before a crowd at the University of Maryland, was asked about the issue by Amanda Knief, government relations manager for the Secular Coalition for America.

“I’m an atheist,” Knief said. “And in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2008, you asserted that no organization receiving taxpayer funds would be able to discriminate in hiring or firing based on a person’s religion. However, you have not rescinded the executive order that permits that type of discrimination. In a time of economic hardship, when it is difficult for a person to get a job based on her skills, what would you say to a woman who has been denied employment because of her religion, or lack of religious beliefs, by taxpayer-funded organizations?”

Obama responded by calling this “a very difficult issue, but a more narrow one than I think might be implied.”

He went on to say, “It’s very straightforward that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. What has happened is that there has been a carve-out, dating back to President Clinton’s presidency, for religious organizations in their hiring for particular purposes.

“This is always a tricky part of the First Amendment,” Obama continued. “On the one hand, the First Amendment ensures that there is freedom of religion. On the other hand, we want to make sure that religious bodies are abiding by general laws. Where this issue has come up is in fairly narrow circumstances where for example you’ve got a faith-based organization that’s providing certain services they consider part of their mission, to be promoting their religious views, but they may have a daycare center associated with the organization, or they may be running a food pantry.”

Obama went on to say, “I think we’ve struck the right balance so far, but this is something we continue to be in dialogue with faith-based organizations about to try to make sure that their hiring practices are as open and inclusive as possible.”

Knief wasn’t satisfied, telling reporters that Obama “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. I would urge the president to reconsider the statements he made today, and stick to his campaign promise of 2008 by signing an executive order barring any taxpayer funding of religious organizations that discriminate on the basis of belief.”