The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Discrimination Double Standard

A commenter at Pam’s asked an excellent question. Why is discrimination a one way street when it comes to discrimination?

why is discrimination allowed to go only one-way?  it’s patently unfair.  the existing protections for fundamentalist gay-hating christians must be removed–sexual orientation and religious beliefs must be held on the same grounds, and work in the same ways.  if i am the owner of a small (less than 15-person) business and i discover that one of my employees is a gay-hating christo-fascist, i should have the right to can his ass!

In other words, why is no one allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion but religious organizations are allowed to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs?

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Religion is a protected status (and a chosen one, I might add), all the way back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and since. Doubly protected, in that people are protected from being discriminated against because of their religion, and have legal recourse if they are discriminated against for being Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. And if anyone who is discriminated against because of their religion has legal recourse.

However, they are also protected — under certain circumstances — if they want to discriminate against others on the basis of their own religious beliefs. In other words, if I’m a business owner, and one of my employees is an evangelical Christian, it is illegal for me to fire her because she is an evangelical Christian. And if I do, she can sue me; in all 50 states, and every county, city, or municipality anywhere in the country

On the other hand, if my employer is an evangelical Christian who has religious objections to homosexuality, she can fire me if she finds out that I’m gay. (Note: I don’t have to “come out” at work. I merely have to be “found out.”) It will be perfectly legal, and there won’t be a damn thing I can do about it, unless I’m employed in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland, Hawaii, Maine, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, or a city/municipality that has a non-discrimination statute that includes sexual orientation.

And even if I am employed in those states, I can still be fired if my employer has a religious objection to homosexuality and gets gets government funding under the Bush administrations faith-based initiative, which exempts religious organizations from state and local non-discrimination laws.

Eighteen current and former employees of the Salvation Army’s social services arm have filed suit against the organization, accusing it of “imposing a religious veil over secular, publicly financed activities like caring for foster children and counseling young people with AIDS,” the New York Times reported in late February. “I was harassed to the point where eventually I resigned,” said Margaret Geissman, a former human resources manager who told the Times that her superior asked for the religions and sexual orientations of her staff. “As a Christian, I deeply resent the use of discriminatory employment practices in the name of Christianity.”

… The Salvation Army is no stranger to controversy revolving around issues related Bush’s faith-based initiative. Six months after the initiative’s unveiling in late January 2001, it was revealed that top-level administration officials had been conducting secret meetings with the Salvation Army to enlist its political and financial support for the then-flagging project. According to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, the meetings, which included Karl Rove, the president’s chief political strategist, and Don Eberly, the then Deputy Director of the newly opened White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, had been going on for several months.

An internal Salvation Army document indicated that in exchange for its support, “which included plans for an Army-sponsored $100,000 public relations campaign,” the charity would receive assurances that any bill passed by Congress would contain a provision allowing religious charities to sidestep state and local anti-discrimination measures barring discriminatory hiring practices on the basis of sexual orientation.

The irony there is that I could be fired for being gay, and as a taxpayer, continue to financially support the very same organization that fired me for being gay.

Talk about having your manna and eating it too.

Which leads me to ask two questions. Why should religion be a protected status? Why should people be protected from being discriminated against because of their religious beliefs, and be permitted to discriminate against others on the basis of their own religious beliefs?

Bonus question: Why should they get tax dollars to do it?


  1. We own a small business and have run into the self-righteous pharisee of Christianity; we found out she was straight and canned her for that instead. our hope was that she would challenge it to set case law precedent to protect sexual orientation, but not luck with that.

    Now we have an entirely gay staff and it’s so much happier around the inn!

  2. I read the comment as snarky and sarcastic. Paraphrased this way

    If religious bigots are allowed to discriminate, why can’t I discriminate against religious bigots?

    it comes across as a silly nudge to the ribs.

  3. Churches themselves should be outside the scope of anti-discrimination laws (e.g. the Catholic Church should be left alone by the government on its women can’t be priests rule). Individuals in secular organizations shouldn’t be able to discriminate just because they hold a religious belief that fuels their prejudice.

    And if your organization is so tied to a particular religious that it counts as a religious organization for the purpose of asking an exemption from anti-discrimination laws, it shouldn’t be getting tax dollars.

  4. It’s not accurate to say that employers are free to discriminate based on their own religious beliefs – if your boss is a member of a White Power church, she is not free to fire you because her religious beliefs make it OK to discriminate on the basis of race.

    What’s really going on here is that employment, in the US, is “at will”. Employees are disposable unless they have a contract, or there is some specific legal protection carved out for them. And most states haven’t decided that sexual orientation is worthy of that kind of protection.

    I’m kind of surprised that on your list, you omitted California, where gender identity and sexual orientation are both protected categories.