01/05/2011 05:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Approves Funding Discriminatory Faith-Based Initiatives

During the 2008 campaigns, then-candidate Obama caused a stir when he said that he'd expand the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, a program that puts federal money into churches hands in order for them to carry out the government's basic jobs, like providing for the poor and homeless. Now Nan Hunter is reporting that, by executive order, Obama has allowed religious organizations receiving the money to discriminate in their hiring practices:

Virtually unnoticed by the press, President Obama issued an Executive Order in November establishing criteria for federal agency funding of social services provided by religious organizations. Executive Order 13559 modified Executive Order 13279, the much criticized 2002 order issued by President Bush. The new order made no changes to policies established by President Bush on the issue of religious bias in hiring by faith-based charities that receive federal funds.

Under both the Bush and Obama orders, religious organizations receiving public funds are allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion in their employment policies. Also under both orders, funding recipients are prohibited from discriminating against beneficiaries on the basis of religious affiliation or belief or the refusal to hold a belief or to attend services.

For the record, this is similar to what then-candidate Obama promised. He supported allowing these organizations to discriminate as well:

Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans that would expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and -- in a move sure to cause controversy -- support their ability to hire and fire based on faith.

The Democratic Congress was unable to pass basic employment protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people these past two years, meaning that it's still legal to fire people for their sexual orientation in 29 states or for their gender identity in 38 states. While the federal government itself isn't allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, it's now clear that it can just privatize part of its job, contract off those functions to a church or religious charity, and then the jobs created by that spending will be effectively cordoned off from LGBT people who still have to pay federal taxes at the same rate as everyone else.

These organizations take in hundreds of millions of dollars, and some don't hide their discrimination. The Salvation Army in New York City, for example, came under fire for asking employees their church affiliation and attendance, only to win the federal case brought against them by the NYCLU because of exemptions to antidiscrimination laws.

This is part of a longer ideological war on the government actually performing services for people. Often the compromise is just to have a private group do the same job for a contract, increasing profit for private-sector management and owners, decreasing the quality of the services provided, and harming the working conditions and compensation of lower-level workers. Federal money is being given to organizations that have "straight-only" and "pray like us only" hiring practices, but that's only a smaller skirmish in the larger war to take money out of the government's hands in order to get tax money into private hands, whether religious or corporate.