January 27, 2011; Source: The Recorder | The Ninth Circuit Court just weighed in on the religious freedoms case involving World Vision – a faith-based humanitarian group. World Vision, which receives federal funds, fired long-time staff people because they didn't subscribe to the organization's very specific faith-based creed. We covered that item here in the Cohen Report.

The Court split two-to-one in favor of World Vision, but the two concurring opinions (PDF) in favor of World Vision are somewhat contradictory. Both argue that World Vision qualifies as a religious institution for the exemption in the Civil Rights Act that allows churches, synagogues, and mosques, for example, to hire only coreligionists. The dissenting opinion argues that while World Vision may have been motivated by its particular Christian beliefs, its functions are not dependent on its religious beliefs and it admits that it isn't a church nor is it affiliated with one.

Neither opinion deals with the issue in – or missing in – the President's executive order about whether any entity should be allowed to discriminate based on religion when it receives federal government funds. The opinions are very important reading for nonprofits, but the ultimate decision may not be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but a determination by the White House on a policy question that so far it has struggled to avoid.—Rick Cohen