By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
A weekend exchange Mike Huckabee had with Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson on Huckabee's Fox News Channel program illustrates just how important the hiring question in the new White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is for conservatives. Barring religious groups from being able to hire only like-minded believers is a deal-breaker for them:
Here's the relevant part of the transcript:
Chuck Colson: The thing I'm most worried about right now in today's environment is President Obama's talking about putting curbs on the faith-based movement, which blossomed in the last 8 years . . . If you start telling faith-based ministries that they can't hire people who share their own convictions and beliefs, you're going to put them all out of business.
Mike Huckabee: Let's make sure the audience understands what we're talking about and the policy change. Organizations, whether they're Christian, Jewish, even Muslim can be a part of offering solutions, whether to deal with disease or inmate solutions, they can partner with the government and still operate in the context of their faith. The Obama administration is saying you can have faith-based, but you can't have anything distinctive about that. Would that be a fairly simple explanation?
Colson: What they're started to say is that we don't want you to discriminate in hiring people when you're taking government money for faith-based works. You have to hire anybody that wants to be hired. They haven't made that a fiat yet, they're talking about it. What they're saying is they'll examine every case to see if we're being discriminatory in hiring. Well, nobody is going to get into faith-based ministries. They just aren't going to do it. . . .
If you come along, as this administration appears to be doing, and say, "We love your work, but just leave the faith part out"—that's all our work is. I don't have anything to give people except Christ. Nothing else. Nothing else is going to change their lives. So don't tell me that I can't do that and then expect me to get the results, because I won't.
Huckabee: It would be like telling people they have a car and you can put liquid in, but it can't be gasoline. It has to be water. If you take the octane out of the faith-based program, you don't have a faith-based program anymore. You have a program.
A few corrections on Colson's remarks:
1. When Colson says the White House appears to be reversing the George W. Bush-era policy that allows faith-based groups, he's jumping the gun. The administration has punted on the question for now. Liberals are just as nervous that Obama won't reverse that policy.
2. Colson is misleading when he says, "If you start telling faith-based ministries that they can't hire people who share their own convictions and beliefs, you're going to put them all out of business." The Obama administration isn't proposing to tell faith-based groups whom they can hire. The question is whether they can discriminate when hiring with government money. Big difference. No religious organizations are so dependent on government funds that this decision would put them out of business.
3. If Colson's Prison Fellowship programs really "don't have anything to give people except Christ," then they couldn't have received federal money even under Bush's faith-based initiatives, which prohibited grant recipients from proselytizing.
Still, Colson's comments are a meaningful indicator of how important the hiring question is for religious conservatives and how serious they are about walking away from White House faith-based initiatives if the Bush hiring policy is reversed.