“[Employees] are expected to act in ways that promote the best interest of our faith and church.”

Take a guess at where this sentence is from. Looking at it out of context, I’d assume it’s part of some type of employment paperwork or memo to a house of worship’s administrative staff, probably in a mainstream Christian church. Nothing unexpected or objectionable, in that scenario.

Unfortunately, that scenario isn’t accurate. This statement is from language recently added to a hiring letter used by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the local branch of the Catholic Church’s charitable organization. Catholic Charities, including the Washington, DC branch, is a privately-run non-profit, which means they can set whatever guidelines they deem necessary for their employees. Except that Catholic Charities accepts government funding for their work ($22 million from the city of Washington), and are thus using taxpayer funds to discriminate against potential employees on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Catholic Charities has specified that this statement only applies to employees while they are on the job, but there are some major problems with that. Promoting “the best interest” of the Catholic faith in a way that does “not violate the principles or tenets of [that] faith” implies that the charity and its employees will not provide services to people who don’t adhere to their church’s teachings, among which are the convictions that homosexuality and divorce are sins, and that the sole reason for romantic relationships between men and women is procreation.

So is Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington going to conduct extensive interviews with the immigrants, refugees, homeless and other people their programs seek to help on the values they possess? Will anyone who is divorced, a former convict, living with a significant other out of wedlock, using birth control or part of the LGBT community be denied a helping hand?

And where will the line be drawn for employees? Someone who is divorced is still divorced when they arrive at the office. Will their employer continue to regard them as married, despite their legal status? Will human resources require some additional, euphemistic reason to remove the employee’s former spouse from his or her health insurance coverage? Will LGBT employees be required to not discuss or refer to any aspect of their personal lives that allude to the fact that they’re gay? If the discrimination inherent in this language was being promoted on the Catholic church’s own dime, it wouldn’t be an issue as it would be their choice, but the government is a major source of Catholic Charities’ funding and using tax dollars to discriminate or proselytize is not okay.

This isn’t Catholic Charities’ first incident entangling religion and government in the Washington, DC area in recent weeks; on Monday, March 1st, an announcement was made that new employees would not have the option of adding spouses to their health insurance, nor would current employees whose spouses were not already covered. A month prior, the non-profit transferred its foster-care program to a private Baptist charity, The National Center for Children and Families, rather than license same-sex couples as foster parents, as they would have been required to do under the new DC law that began allowing same-sex marriage on March 3rd. Neither of these things is illegal, but it calls into question both Catholic Charities’ concern for their employees’ health and well-being and their dedication to charitable work for its own sake, rather than for the sake of an audience to which to proselytize.

Catholic Charities has a decision to make: is promoting Catholicism the main purpose of their charitable work, or is extending a helping hand to anyone who needs it? If the latter is the answer, they need to accept that we live in a diverse society and that the secular government that funds their work demands equal treatment for all of its citizens – treatment they need to reflect as a government-funded entity. If the answer is the former, they need to stop accepting government funds. Period.

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