A case-by-case approach


President Obama will continue to use a case-by-case approach to judge whether hiring discrimination based on religion is appropriate for religious groups, which doesn’t make one Virginia congressman very happy.

The director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois, said Sunday that Obama believes judging each matter on a case-by-case basis is the best way of determining whether religious groups receiving federal funds to perform social services can take religion into account when hiring.

"The president strongly believes this is the best way to really fully understand this issue and other legal issues, and make a decision that will actually survive scrutiny,” DuBois said on Sunday, responding to a question about religious hiring at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s biannual Consultation on Conscience.

DuBois said his office would consult with the White House counsel and the attorney general to “form a recommendation” on a particular issue and then “submit it to the president for review,” looking at the “legal and policy implication for each case as they come.”

Obama promised during the campaign that he would change the Bush-era rules that allow groups receiving federal funds to take religion into account when hiring.

Supporters of those rules, such as the Orthodox Union, say such practices are essential to maintaining the religious character of an organization. But opponents, such as the RAC, believe it amounts to government-funded religious discrimination.

At a discussion of the faith-based initiative at the Anti-Defamation League’s National Leadership Conference on Monday, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said a case-by-case approach was akin to not taking a position — and hoped that Obama would change the Bush rules

Scott wondered how the govenrment could tell a recipient of federal money that it could "discriminate" in hiring, but also tell the "religious businessman" that’s "right down the street" that he can’t.

"Does that make any sense?" he said.

Another ADL panel participant, Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Melissa Rogers, said that it was too early to know exactly how the case-by-case system would work. but Rogers, a member of the White House’s Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, noted that even if the Justice Department ruled that taking religion into account when hiring did pass constitutional muster, it still may not be the right policy decision.

When the president revamped the faith-based office in February, he announced the case-by-case formulation for judging legal issues, which at the time, some saw as a temporary formulation.

DuBois noted that “some conservative friends weren’t too happy” with the case-by-case decision, while the president’s “progressive allies wanted more of a sweeping change.”

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