A Christian charity’s decision to hire married LGBT individuals was almost immediately reversed after an outcry from the Religious Right, prompting questions about the federal funding it receives for its work.World Vision, which uses child sponsorships to deliver aid to developing communities, announced the change to its hiring policies on Monday.
In a statement to employees later released to the press, World Vision’s president, Richard Stearns, explained: “I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone.”“I want to reassure you that we are not sliding down some slippery slope of compromise, nor are we diminishing the authority of Scripture in our work,” he added.
But his reassurances weren’t enough to mollify World Vision’s fundamentalist donors.Those donors immediately launched a coordinated effort to yank their funds from the charity. According to the Deseret News, World Vision lost approximately 2,000 child sponsorships in a 48-hour period, which suggests a financial loss of $840,000.World Vision has an annual operating budget of about $1 billion, but the prospect of losing further donations forced a stunning reversal in its policy change. On Wednesday, Stearns announced that they would no longer consider hiring married LGBT people, and apologized for their previous decision.“The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,” Stearns announced. To the Religious Right, he said, “We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.”He did not, of course, seek the forgiveness of the LGBT community.This is only the most recent saga surrounding World Vision and its hiring policies. In 2010, the charity won a legal battle to continue practicing employment discrimination against non-Christians and LGBT people.If World Vision relied exclusively on private donations, there never would have been a case at all, but much of its work is funded by grants from the federal government.That means that you and I are potentially donating to World Vision every time we pay our taxes. And they’re using our money to promote discrimination not only at home but also in the nearly 100 countries in which they work.World Vision owes its license to discriminate to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed in 1993. Americans United and its allies originally supported the legislation as an important step toward protecting religious liberty. But since its passage, it’s become a tool for extremist groups to demand —and receive -- special rights from the federal government.In a piece for Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner wrote, “The Supreme Court let stand the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that World Vision was a religious institution entitled to the same exemption as a church.” That means it can apply a religious test for employment, and refuse to hire LGBT people, even though it received $70 million from the government last fiscal year.Posner also cited a 2008 campaign trail promise by President Obama to tighten regulations on how federal grants are used by faith-based organizations. Six years later, that campaign promise remains unfulfilled.If anything productive emerges from the swamp of World Vision’s bad publicity, it’ll be renewed public interest in the extent to which faith-based organizations are allowed to discriminate using tax-payer funds.World Vision does not deserve a cent of the government’s money as long as it continues to practice employment discrimination. It’s an unconscionable violation of the First Amendment, and marginalized people pay the price for it.