Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

World Relief’s new policy banning the hiring of non-Christians

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 10, 2010

World Relief in Seattle has refused to hire a former Iraqi refugee who volunteered with them for six months as an Arabic translator (here).

Saad Mohammad Ali had volunteered for six months at World Relief, helping the agency resettle arriving Iraqi refuges, when a manager suggested he apply for an Arabic-speaking caseworker job. The 42-year-old SeaTac resident had been an interpreter for the U.S. government in Iraq before coming to the U.S. two years ago — himself as a refugee. With a degree in statistics, strong English skills and basic knowledge of American culture, Mohammad Ali, who now works as a baggage handler at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, could help his arriving countrymen temper their typically high expectations of life in America. But a few days after he applied for the position last December, the Muslim and father of three got an unexpected call from the same manager at World Relief: She was sorry, she told him, but the agency couldn’t offer him the job because he is not Christian.

Although World Relief operates on 64% government funding (see 990 form here), it is perfectly legal for them to discriminate against employees and potential employees on the basis of religion. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows this. Yet, why should they be operating on government funding then? If they are faith-based groups operating tax-free and set up as charities, shouldn’t they be funding their faith-based services? Why should they be participating in public programs, and not, say, operating along-side public programs?

The article goes on to discuss the religious requirements the organization applies not only to employees, but even to volunteers.

…in recent months, the agency formalized its policy, which he said “allows us to preserve our core identity and value. It has nothing to do with the people we serve or work with.”It also began requiring employees to sign a statement of faith, affirming the organization’s mission, vision and values, which, among other things, include using the life of Jesus Christ as an example for doing good. Volunteers, interns and contractors, like Mohammad Ali, are required to acknowledge an understanding of these principles, Bauman said, though they are not required to sign a statement.

Yet according to a college student who recently applied at World Relief’s Spokane office, World Relief told her to sign exactly that when she recently applied as a volunteer to help refugees (see our post here, and her original op-ed letter here). She said that World Relief told her to sign a “spiritual assessment” form, which required her to explain her “spiritual relationship with the Lord”.

Why do members of the community have to take a religious test just to assist the government, on a voluntary basis, with refugee resettlement in their communities? The refugee resettlement program is a public program run on mostly public funds, and encourages heavy use of volunteers and public donations. World Relief and other refugee resettlement agencies are just private contractors paid with our public funds to give a service to the community. Should they be allowed to intrude their personal religious beliefs into government-funded public services, such as refugee resettlement? 

Ironically many Iraqis were resettled to the US specifically because they helped US military forces as Arabic translators. The goal of the SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrant program is to help these people find work in the uS as soon as possible. Now we have a contractor working for the US refugee resettlement program that refuses to hire them because they are Muslim. Yet, refugee resettlement is exactly where the public and the government needs them for their English/Arabic translation skills.

We propose that the federal agencies that contract with the private refugee resettlement agencies for refugee resettlement services immediately create a requirement that any organizations signing contracts to resettle refugees must promise not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the hiring of caseworkers, translators or interpreters. These groups’ participation in the refugee program is purely voluntary, and the program would be run better without them if they can’t offer required services without hurting the interests of the refugees and the public.

Congress may also need to alter or repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb.

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5 Responses to “World Relief’s new policy banning the hiring of non-Christians”

  1. Hajj Dawud said

    Muslims are absolutely opposed to any and all attempts by anyone to tell the people of any faith community how to conduct their affairs. Every religious community, of whatever faith, wherever situated, has an absolute right to free exercise of their religion within their religious community. World Relief reaches out to people of all faiths to serve them, and within their organization, which is a religious work for them and a secular work for all of the people they help, they should suffer no criticism or “regulation” of how they manage their affairs, whether in hiring or anywhere else.

    These people are serving the public without regard to faith, based on a public need. They are certainly entitled, as is any other organization, to accept public funding to enable them to serve a public need.

    This Christian group is explicitly exempted by the Civil Rights Act from the Act’s prohibition of “discriminatory” hiring practices. This is entirely consistent with the US Constitution and the First Amendment, America’s social contract. It is also consistent with Islamic Law and the religions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, all three of which call upon the faithful to join together in the performance of good works that serve humanity, and all three of which reject any imposition by others to obstruct or manage their good works.

    In other words, World Relief’s hiring policy is entirely consistent with American social values and is not “discriminatory” in any way that is inconsistent with those values treasured by all Americans.

    America is the only place in the world where religious liberty is both a social ideal and a social reality. There is no other country where religious liberty is so firmly established as a foundation principle underlying all of our liberties, written into our social contract, spread throughout our entire justice system, and in the hearts of all Americans.

    Muslims everywhere advocate, support, honor, and fight for that religious liberty for all peoples everywhere. It is why muslims come to America, leaving their ancestral homes, families, histories, and cultures to become Americans. It is why America was founded in the first place.

    Making an “issue” out of World Relief’s policy is nothing more than an attempt to interfere in the conduct of Christian affairs by Christians and only Christians, and to establish a precedent allowing the public to “regulate” the free exercise of religion, eroding that very religious liberty that makes America a beacon of light for all humanity. We categorically refuse to participate in the pillorying of World Relief for doing what they believe God wants them to do.

    Hajj Dawud Ahmad al-Amriki
    Amir, Masjid al-Amr
    muslims (at) muslimamerica.net
    Muslim America
    http://www.muslimamerica.net/

  2. Mary said

    Mr. Al-Amriki,

    Yes, I agree with what you say, but when you take government money to fund your organization you CANNOT discriminate on the basis of religion. If WR wants to hire only Christians, they may do so by refusing to be involved with my tax money.

    This case should be brought to the Labor Board.

  3. Thank you Hajj Dawud for your comment.

    I agree with you that government cannot interfere with religious activity in this country, however, it is not true that religious communities here have an, “absolute right to free exercise of their religion within their religious community”. They have that right as long as it does not involve breaking any laws of the land.

    It is an entirely different issue when religious groups accept government money in order to offer services to the public. This money comes from all the people in the society (of various religious beliefs or lack thereof) and its use should not cross a clear separation of church and state which protects religious freedom. Would you want your tax money given to religious groups to support activity that violate your beliefs? Well, no one else does either.

    Religious groups are free to raise their own funds via their tax-exempt status to go about the good deeds they want to offer to the larger community. When they accept the general public’s money via government contacts then it must come with certain restrictions.

    The Bush administration succeeded in blurring the distinction between government activity and religious activity with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    Finally, while I generally agree that religious groups can hire whoever they want without restriction, I think that it just doesn’t make sense for them to take part in the refugee program and then refuse to hire refugees based on their religion. Refugees need jobs — self-sufficiency is one of the main goals of the domestic program — and hiring them for the refugee program must only be based on their qualifications to do the job, and not on any other criteria.

  4. [...] Here is our post about World Relief refusing to hire a Arabic interpreter in Seattle simply because he is a Muslim and not an evangelical Christian (here). [...]

  5. [...] Top Posts George Rupp or the IRC claims that all problems in resettlement the result of economy & not enough government fundingCongressman Dingell's letter in support of Obama's proposed FY 2010 budget increase for ORRWorld Relief's new policy banning the hiring of non-Christians [...]

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