Congress revisits religious hiring

By Angela Abbamonte

As a senior at Union University, I am able to look back on the past three years and see how professors have integrated faith and learning. Even courses not religious in nature are presented in a Christian context. Just because biology and literature do not take place on the third floor of Jennings Hall does not mean they are devoid of Christian thinking.

Students and faculty at Union University are proud that it would take nothing less than an act of Congress for Union University to hire someone who does not hold to the same beliefs as the rest of campus, but discussion may have started that would bring about that act of Congress sooner than they realize.

More than 100 religious organizations have signed a letter sent to every member of Congress explaining how the language of legislation currently under review would make it impossible for religious organizations to receive certain federal grant money if they hire based on religious beliefs.

The legislation in question would reauthorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and a section in the legislation says: “With respect to any activity to be funded (in whole or in part) through an award of a grant, cooperative agreement, or contract under this title … may not make such an award unless the applicant agrees to refrain from considering religion or any profession of faith when making any employment decision regarding an individual who is or will be assigned to carry out any portion of the  activity.”

It goes on to say this stipulation holds true despite federal law exempting religious organizations, including educational institutions, from similar hiring requirements. Provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for religious organizations give hiring preference to those who share their religion.

It is important to note this legislation impacts the hiring within religious organizations receiving funding. No discrimination exists among those who receive aid from these organizations, just as we do not require students to profess faith in Jesus Christ in order to be admitted to Union.

A letter sent to Congress opposing this legislation was led by World Vision, a Christian charitable organization supporting underprivileged children around the world. Other signers included the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several educational institutions that do not receive federal grant money.

In a press release concerning the plea to Congressmen, Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the UOJCA, said: “The law is clear and has been for nearly 50 years. Faith is foundational to faith-based agencies. It is the motivation for our work, and it is what drives us to engage in service to others.”

The letter looks back on laws that protect religious freedom in hiring practices, refering to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and saying the actions proposed in the legislation “would be catastrophic to our efforts to serve those in need and to all who value statutory protection for religious liberty.”

While this specific legislation may not impact faith-based universities immediately, the language of the piece could signify a door opening to greater government scrutiny in the hiring practices of religious institutions such as Union.

Our school is openly Christ-focused, providing a chapel service twice a week, ensuring a Christian atmosphere on campus and hiring faculty who uphold the beliefs of the school.

In regard to hiring new faculty members, one section of the faculty application found on Union’s website says, “Union University employs only individuals who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. All employees are expected to be active members of a local Christian church.”

What would happen if the government told Union University and other religious educational institutions they were not allowed to hire new employees based on religion?

It would be difficult-–maybe imposible-–to carry out the integration of faith and learning when faculty members do not share in the faith of the             university.

I trust the administration of this university hold their beliefs strongly and strive to respect government laws, but I hope there is never a time where they would have to choose between the law of the land and upholding the values of the university when considering adding new faculty to the Union University family.

The legislation in question is not lending itself to changing things so drastically so soon, but a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. This one step, a simple phrase before Congress, may be a starting point for future legislation that would give the government a say in who is hired in institutions like Union.

We must be diligent to stay aware of what Congress is discussing in case it comes to affect what we hold dear, such as the ability for our faith-based university to hire who it needs in order to stay on the path of a Christian educational institution of higher learning.

While this particular act of Congress may not impact us immediately, it may start to bring about change where places like Union would need to choose to either yield to government standards of equality or uphold their higher values in hiring practices.

About Cardinal & Cream 1009 Articles
The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.