OFANP may be off to a less than splendid start, but Winnie Sullivan’s smirky essay in Religion Dispatches only confuses the issue. She begins by claiming that the press has missed the point by focusing on the hiring question. Why? Because, according to her, that’s a distraction from the fact that the new administration, like the previous one, “has a plan to use religion to further its political goals.” Which have to do with fostering economic recovery. Well, duh. But actually, the reason for focusing on the president’s walk-back on the hiring issue is the suspicion that there’s a less attractive political goal at work here: appealing to religious conservatives who are not as enamored of church-state separation as Candidate Obama claimed to be.
Winnie hates the idea that Americans of all faiths and no faith should be assumed to share a common commitment of any kind. This represents, for her, a betrayal of religious diversity–in effect, an abuse of religion. No doubt, there are those who for secular as well as sacred reasons would decline to go along with the OFANP agenda. But that’s why faith-based hiring is such a core question.
If, in the usual democratic way, the federal government decides to fund certain programs for the general welfare; and if, because they share a commitment to those programs, certain religious institutions choose to act as secular agencies in carrying them out; then fine. But if they can foster their own purely religious goals via discriminatory hiring, then not so fine. Not only because the rest of us end up paying to support those goals. But also because our tax dollars will be out there tempting other religious institutions to change what they are.