Thursday, September 29, 2005

Head Start in Religious Bigotry

Discrimination means passing over a well-qualified person in favor of a less-qualified person for a job because the less-qualified candidate has some irrelevant characteristic that grants him special treatment. In this case, the characteristic that qualifies a candidate for special treatment is belief in God.

The U.S. House of Representatives has recently passed, and passed on to the Senate, a bill to fund Head Start for $6.8 billion through 2011. In this bill they changed the rules to allow faith-based organizations that receive this money to use religious beliefs as a criterion for hiring.

What's wrong with this?

Effectively, this government policy takes money from citizens without regard for their religious beliefs, but then promotes the economic wellbeing of those with government approved religious beliefs (those who can get jobs) over those without (who cannot get those same jobs).

The government has created $6.8 billion in economic opportunity and power, and a set of rules that says, "Alonzo and those who share his beliefs have no chance are hereby prohibited from having any opportunity at all from obtaining the benefits of these funds purely because they do not believe what we wish them to believe."

Of course, the government has a right to disqualify people from jobs if they are not qualified to fulfill those jobs. It would be foolish of me to argue that people should be given equal consideration when it comes to fulfilling an opening for an appellate court judge. However, the legitimate criterion for excluding people from the job of Judge is that they do not know the law. The criterion that is being used to exclude people from the economic opportunities available through Head Start is my belief that no God exists.

Sorry, that was a bad example. President Bush has also announced that it is his policy not to hire people as judges unless they meet a particular religious test as well. In 2002, he said, ""We need commonsense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. Those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench."

What Bush actually said is, “Hey, you, atheist law student. I do not care how bright you are, what your grades were in college, what your professors said about your character or your understanding of the law, the opinions of your peers on legal matters, your level of respect in the legal community, none of that matters if you do not have government-approved religious beliefs.”

Imagine what the reaction would have been if Bush had said that the judges he appoints must believe that our rights came from Jesus. What you would be imagining is the amount of bigotry that still exists in his original statement.

Discrimination is a moral crime where individuals are judged worthy or unworthy based on criteria that are entirely irrelevant as to whether they can do the job they are being hired for. Discrimination means passing over a well-qualified person in favor of a less-qualified person for a job because the less-qualified candidate has some irrelevant characteristic that grants him special treatment. In this case, the characteristic that qualifies a candidate for special treatment is belief in God.

Government money must not be used to fund a practice of declaring one set of peaceful citizens superior to another based on their religious beliefs.


Head Start is meant to provide benefits to underprivileged and at-risk children. However, it provides another benefit as well. It provides economic opportunity. It provides a chance for adults who are trying to enter or advance in the job market to gather valuable work experience.

This change in the rules grants extra privileges to those who share certain religious beliefs. In making the change, the government says, "If you accept these approved religious beliefs, then we will help you up the economic ladder. We will provide an opportunity for an additional economic boost. However, if you do not share these beliefs, you are on your own. You are banned from participating in some of these opportunities."

The practical effect of all of this is that our government has a policy of imposing a "belief tax" on certain citizens. This “belief tax” is the opportunity for employment and advancement that these citizens would have had if the government had been fair and just in how it spends tax revenue.

The government is setting up offices for economic advancement, and posting a sign on the door that says, "Authorized personnel only beyond this point."

"Authorized personnel" are those with government-approved religious beliefs.

Fighting Injustice

These types of situations always call up a question that I do not fully know how to answer. What do you do if you find yourself in a society that has significant structural injustices and immorality.?

I think of the slave, living in the South in 1800, who realizes that he is being treated unjustly -- that those who hold him in this position are immoral. Yet, what is he to do? He could go up to his owner and say, "What you are doing is wrong. What you are doing is fundamentally immoral. No decent, moral person would do such a thing." However, if he does this, the chances are good that the owner will only whip him for insubordination and tell him to get back to work, or else.

Similarly, I wonder at the effects of what I write here. I have identified a basic, structural evil inherent in the government charging a belief-tax and providing certain belief-subsidies to its citizens. This immorality is combined with another where the society claims to honor the moral doctrine of freedom of belief. These belief-taxes and belief-subsidies show that it is not the case. A free country does not impose extra tax burdens on those who do not share approved beliefs, or distribute the benefits of government expenses based on the beliefs of its citizens. So, the country that claims to be free and just, who imposes these belief taxes and subsidies, is a country of hypocrites.

What is the use of pointing out the moral failings and hypocrisy of people who have deafened themselves to moral truth? I fear that I can expect only to be (verbally) whipped and told to get back to work -- if I can find it (because the government is giving its money to those who have said that I have no hope of finding work with them).

In a moral and just society, a citizen would only need to report an injustice and the society will put itself to work trying to correct it. In a moral and just society, the citizens do not tolerate injustice or those who seek to promote it. In a moral and just society, the citizens would not support a belief tax. In an immoral and unjust society, however, there is no limit to what we might find.

If a person lives in a fundamentally unjust society, then what is to be done?

I can’t think of an answer to this question. The slaves in the 1800s never found an answer to the question, “Then what?” They remained slaves as the injustices committed against them went on from one decade to the next.

Hopefully, we are better than them. Hopefully, we live in a society that has not so far abandoned an interest in fairness and justice that we are forced to seek an answer to the question, “If we are not such a society, then what?”

Hopefully, we still have a society where decent people realize that it is fundamentally wrong for the government to have anything that can be ultimately expressed in terms of a religious belief tax.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this post to be an intriguing read, echoing similarly disturbingly thoughts I have had about a similar occurrence.