Democratic Underground

Outing the Salvation Army
July 18, 2001
by Rodney Jay C. Salinas

Every year, I've made it a habit of cleaning my closets and finding some clothes that I no longer want or no longer fit. I just fold them up, put them in a shopping bag and take them to the Salvation Army a few miles away. It helps keep my closets clean, and after all, it's for a good cause. Heck, I even get a tax-deduction for it. I used to think this was a good idea, but not anymore.

Last week, the Salvation Army, the nation's largest charity, was "outed." It turns out that they have been lobbying for months to include a special provision that would let religious charities, like theirs, discriminate against hiring homosexuals and still receive federal funding. This special provision was requested in light of President George W. Bush's push for increased federal funding of faith-based charities.

Since his inauguration in January, President Bush has been trumpeting his faith-based initiative, giving religious-based charities increased access to federal funds. The idea has a great deal of support from the nonprofit sector - they stand to benefit the most from this arrangement. But the initiative has also picked up support from many Democrats, who are eager to give more funding to support various social service programs. All in all, this effort, with its perceived bipartisan support might have a shot at passage in the coming weeks.

Charities and nonprofits provide many desperately needed services to our communities. In many cases, these organizations are providing these services because the government cannot or is unable to do it. Just imagine how many people would go hungry or homeless if it were not for your local church or shelter. But just because these groups fulfill a service to our fellow men and women does not make them above the law. Discrimination, regardless of its form or circumstance, is intolerable and inexcusable.

The Salvation Army wanted the White House to issue a regulation that would protect government-funded religious charities from state and local laws barring workplace discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. What exactly is going on with the Salvation Army? Are they openly discriminating against gays and lesbians, women or other minorities? And if they are, should they be receiving federal funds, or worse, taxpayers' money to perpetuate their behavior? Absolutely not.

I wonder if the Salvation Army is as picky about who they choose to help as much as they are picky about who they hire. Do they not give clothes and shelter to bisexuals? Although they are hesitant to hire gays, I'm sure they don't turn down the money a gay person gives to the dressed-up Santa Clauses who stand on street corners and collect donations in Salvation Army buckets during the holidays. Oh, the hypocrisy!

As soon as the press reported news of this dilemma, the Salvation Army released an official statement. "The Salvation Army's hiring policies fully comply with federal laws with respect to fair hiring on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, and ethnicity. Federal law does provide protection to religious organizations for the hiring of employees consistent with an organization's beliefs, values and practices. The Salvation Army does choose carefully its pastors and other ministerial positions, as do other religious organizations."

Yes, federal law does provide protection so that these organizations can hire employees who "share the organization's beliefs." I don't have a problem with private institutions behaving in this manner. Country clubs and social circles can admit and/or hire whomever they want because they are private. But once a group receives any type of funding that includes taxpayer money, then it's a different story. They have gone from being a private organization to a state-sponsored group and the government should not support discrimination in any way.

Because it is the largest charity, the Salvation Army has a lot of influence. This is probably why the White House was considering their proposed provision in the first place. But the president's staffers were smart enough to reject the Salvation Army's proposal for fear that they would lose their bipartisan support for the overall initiative. Good move. After all, President Bush wouldn't want to upset the gay and lesbian community anymore than he already has, right?

At the end of it all, this incident has reminded me that even money-hungry nonprofits need to make some difficult choices. And since this is a free country, I think I'll do the same. This year, I'll choose NOT to send my donations to the Salvation Army.

Rodney Jay C. Salinas is President of the Rainmaker Political Group LLC, publishers of PoliticalCircus.com, a leading online source for political news and information for the Asian Pacific American community.


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