Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Religious Relevance in Hiring

The fourth item on Sean Faircloth's list of policy objectives for his new atheist political strategy is, No religious discrimination in land use or employment.

In this posting, I am going to focus on the employment issue.

This policy means that a person's religious beliefs are not to be considered relevant when hiring a person for a job unless it is actually a part of the job qualifications.

An example where religion is relevant is reflected in the fact that a Catholic Church should not be required to hire a Jew as a priest, nor would the synagogue be forced to hire the Christian. There are certain positions in certain organizations that require that the person hold a particular faith.

There are also situations like those I described yesterday where religious beliefs (or non-religious secular philosophies) prevent a person from performing the duties associated with a job. Where this happens, religious beliefs are relevant and may be considered. Though, technically, religious belief is not the relevant issue here, but willingness to perform the duties of the job one is applying for. A paramedic who refuses to give blood transfusions at an accident site is disqualified, not because of his religion, but his refusal to give transfusions at an accident site. The reason does not matter. It is the refusal that matters.

However, in cases where religious beliefs are not required to do the job and the job has no duties that the employee would refuse to carry out for religious reasons, then religion is not relevant to doing the job and shall not be relevant.

At this point, I would like to remind the reader that there are limits to religious tolerance. It is simply not the case that we can disregard all religious beliefs and tolerate all religious practices. A religion that practices the sacrifice of young virgins, or that demands the death of anybody of a different religion, or that claims that the wife must die with her husband, or that we must not suffer a witch to live, are just some possible examples of religious practices that nobody has a right to exercise nor do others have an obligation to tolerate.

Similarly, we must also find certain a-theistic philosophies intolerable. An example of this would be the view that we must exterminate the religion meme by euthanizing all who appear to be infected with it. Verbal persuasion is the only legitimate way to alter a person's views on such matters.

However, among peaceful religions (an a-theistic philosophies), where religion is not an integral part of the job, there is no need to consider those beliefs when making employment decisions. In the case of hiring the church leader, religious convictions are relevant. In terms of hiring a teacher in a school that provides state-funded education to children, it does not - as long as one is willing to teach the received academic theories regarding such things as the age of the earth, biological evolution, archaeology, and history.

In light of this, consider a case in which a church that decides to build a school. There are two main routes that the church may take.

One route us that it could be a church school designed to teach the beliefs of the church - a school for training would-be priests, for example. Here, religious belief would be relevant to employment and may be considered.

Or it could be a school whose purpose is to teach general knowledge to the public at large. Religious belief is not relevant to the job of providing children with a general education in history, math, science, geography, archaeology, and the like. Therefore, religious beliefs may not be used as an employment criterion. Doing so would be discriminatory and prejudicial - and these do not serve a legitimate interest.

The issue becomes more pronounced when state money is involved. The state has no business taxing all of its citizens to create employment or career opportunities only for those who meet certain religious qualifications. The state has no business taxing everybody yet creating jobs only for Christians, or only for those who believe in a god. State money may only be legitimately spent in ways that treat all citizens equally before the law - meaning that it does not consider qualifications other than those relevant to the job in question.

Going back to our hypothetical school, the church must rely on its own resources to fund a school that teaches its beliefs and doctrines - such as training priests or teaching its own version of history or biology. If it takes state money, then its teachings shall be those of received academic opinions, not those of their specific religion. Teaching received academic opinion requires no religious test, and none should be used.

If a church wishes to handle adoptions it may do so in its own way regarding children voluntarily given to their care by private individuals responsible for that care. An unwed mother who gives her child to such an agency would meet this criterion. However, if the agency takes state money, then they must use the state standards regarding who is qualified to adopt. It may lobby the state as to what those standards should be. However, when they act as agents of the state (taking state money), then they are to use the state standards.

If a church adopts the practice of accepting food donations and offering food to the poor, they may do so in the context of trying to convert the poor to their religion and use understanding of church doctrine as a qualification for employment in the kitchen. However, if it takes state money, its mission is to feed the hungry, not to convert people. This is a job for which religious beliefs are irrelevant and may not be considered a criterion of employment.

A part of the principle of freedom of religion is that religions stand or fall on their own. The fact that the church of Athena seems to have hit some hard times recently does not justify a state bailout providing the church with subsidies in order to rebuild that religion.

If the school or orphanage or soup kitchen cannot stay open without state aid, then so be it. The church has the option to end that service. If a church service is not viable without state funds, the state should not keep it running with government subsidies. Instead, the state should buy its services from a competing agency that is willing to sell the services that serve actual and legitimate state interests.

It is scarcely recognized that the Catholic Church is passing much of the cost of lawsuits against it for child sexual abuse of priests by passing those costs on to the taxpayers. It diverts money that would have otherwise gone to its schools, orphanages, and food banks - then demands that the state fund those operations instead. This is functionally no different than giving the taxpayer the bill for these lawsuits.

The principle behind this policy is that of equal standing before the law. Where the state is in a position to provide advantages and disadvantages - to grant or to deny opportunities - it must demonstrate a legitimate state reason in determining who gets those advantages or disadvantages. There is a legitimate state reason to discriminate between competent versus incompetent engineers when paying for the construction of a bridge. There is no legitimate state reason to discriminate between white versus black engineers, or female versus male engineers.

Nor is there a legitimate state interest served in distinguishing between theist versus atheist engineers - unless a person's religion is one that teaches that pi = 3, in which case the question of religious belief overlaps the question of engineering competence. In this case, the state may discriminate. However, this is still an example of discriminating in terms of competent engineering, not a case of discrimination against a religion per se.


curious cuber said...

"It is scarcely recognized that the Catholic Church is passing much of the cost of lawsuits against it for child sexual abuse of priests by passing those costs on to the taxpayers."

Where could one find this information? I wholeheartedly agree with your points, but I find it hard to believe this is true.

Anonymous said...

You said: "The state has no business taxing everybody yet creating jobs only for Christians, or only for those who believe in a god. "

In 2001 Bush pushed through the idea of "faith-based initiatives" where the government would fund the Church in it's money-making businesses if they followed certain guidelines. What we are seeing now is that the Church wants to keep all that money, but not live up to their agreements.