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.