August 23, 2010; Source: Seattle Times | A ruling on Monday by a federal court bolstered the rights of tax exempt, faith-based nonprofits to restrict employment only to those who share their religious beliefs, and even to fire those who don’t. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of World Vision, a Washington state-based humanitarian group that had been sued by three employees that were fired because they didn’t believe in the deity of Jesus Christ nor in the Trinity.
In its 2-1 ruling, the Court said that World Vision is exempt from Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits religious discrimination. Writing for the majority, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain said, “I am satisfied that World Vision has met its burden of showing that the ‘general picture’ of the organization is ‘primarily religious.’” In a statement following the ruling, World Vision said the court’s decision showed that the group can practice what otherwise would be discriminatory employment policies because its “Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ.”
The sole dissenter, Judge Marsha Berzon, disagreed that the organization’s primary mission is explicitly Christian outreach, but instead wrote that most of the group’s work is humanitarian relief. “Only the personal religious beliefs of World Vision staff differentiate these humanitarian acts from the ‘ministry’ that could be . . . provided by people of all faiths or no faith.”
The attorney for the three employees who had been fired said their jobs should not have put them in conflict with World Vision’s core beliefs. One oversaw technology, another performed office tasks, and the third handled shipping duties. “There’s no ‘Christian’ way of moving furniture or performing secretarial duties,” John Lonnquist said. “Yet these people lost their jobs that they were performing well, solely because World Vision didn’t like the particular brand of Christianity to which they adhered. To me, that’s fundamentally wrong, that people can lose their jobs in this day and age, solely because of their religious beliefs.”—Bruce Trachtenberg