The OFANP Advisory Council has been meeting in D.C. the past couple of days, hearing reports from its various task forces. In his account over on WaPo’s GinG, William Wan notes that although the contentious hiring issue has been formally taken off the Board’s plate and assigned to the lawyers, questions about it were nonetheless voiced yesterday. Specifically, a representative of the ACLU “got up to make a pointed statement near the end about the legal implications of allowing World Vision, a Christian group focused on helping children, to hire [to government funded positions] based on religious views.” (World Vision president Richard Stearns, who serves on the Council, announced a couple of days ago that the organization has had to lay off 4-5 percent of its U.S. workforce.)
Now one might suppose that the hiring issue is so contentious because those engaged in the discussions are divided into two implacably opposed camps: strict church-state separationists and faith-based providers. But in fact that’s not the case. There’s a significant group of professionals–lawyers, social scientists, and service provider types–who 1) are concerned about letting faith-based providers use religious criteria to discriminate in hiring for government-funded jobs; 2) recognize the difficulties in strictly separating functions in many faith-based organizations; and so 3) are willing to agree to reasonable compromises. The problem is that faith-based advocates like Stearns have thus far signalled no such willingness–or if they have, no one I’ve talked to is aware of it.
Under the circumstances, why not let the Advisory Council actually try to address the issue? Unlike, say, abortion of same-sex marriage, faith-based hiring is eminently accessible to common ground solutions, and it should not be beyond the capacity of sophisticated insiders to work them out.