Saturday, April 11, 2009

Discrimination in hiring: the Christian colleges in America

The American Philosophical Association is undergoing a rancourous debate about a proposal to prevent various Protestant universites from advertising in the APA's paper, 'Jobs for Philosophers'. The argument is that since these universities ask their staff to live in accord with Christian norms, which exclude sex outside marriage, they discriminate against homosexuals. This kind of argument is becoming common.

A very helpful response has been put together by Mark Murphy, a Catholic philosopher at Georgetown University. It is interesting to note the leading role taken by Catholics to defend the right of institutions to follow a practice that no Catholic institution, as far as I know, would dream of adopting. These Protestant colleges, moreover, would as cheerfully have excluded Catholics as homosexuals a generation ago. But that, as they say, is not the point.

Dr Murphy's letter can be seen in full here; here's an interesting extract on the nature of discrimination.

First, there are reasons to believe that these institutions are not engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation. The policy lacks a definition of discrimination. We suggest that it is plausible that satisfaction of any of the following conditions is sufficient to constitute discrimination, but satisfaction of at least one of them is necessary: (a) intentional targeting for burdening of the protected class; (b) burdening that is motivated by animus against the protected class; (c) burdening of the protected class that is disproportionate and not adequately justified. But none of these is satisfied in the case of the sexual conduct requirements at these Christian colleges. (If there is an alternative understanding of 'discrimination' not here considered under which these schools do discriminate, we ask that the defenders of the original petition bring it forward and defend its acceptability.)

(a) Those with a particular sexual orientation are not targeted. Employment is conditioned on one’s willingness to refrain from sexual conduct outside of traditional marriage; it is compatible with the satisfaction of this condition that one be of any sexual orientation, and no particular sexual orientation would be sufficient to meet the condition.

(b) There is no institutional animus toward those who are homosexually oriented; or, to put it more guardedly, no evidence at all of institutional animus toward those homosexually oriented has been brought forward. The norms of sexual conduct of the institutions in question are broad, reaching to various sorts of sexual conduct, both homosexual and heterosexual, and appear to be generally enforced as written. (If defenders of the original petition have evidence that these institutions' policies are being enforced in a way that provides evidence of institutional animus, we urge that they put it forward.)

(c) What will generate most contention is whether there is unjustified disproportionate burdening. Defenders of these schools’ policies will note that adherence to their policies on sexual conduct is justified by the job description, which is to contribute to the living of a Christian life in a specific sort of educational community. This way of life does in fact place different burdens on people; no doubt those who are homosexually oriented are burdened in a way that those heterosexually oriented are not. But we think that it is important that in the context of US discrimination law, and even in the context of the APA’s own norms, there is some deference given to the religious character of the institution — that these are schools that adopt the requirements for the conduct of their communal life from what they take to be divine revelation, and it is explicitly allowed by the APA policy for schools to make adherence to the faith statements of these schools, statements that include moral claims about the ordering of individual lives and communities, a condition of employment. When we add to this the fact that one's adherence to a certain faith affects what one counts as a 'burden' and what personal and social meaning those burdens have, it is, at best, an extraordinarily contentious claim to hold that these schools discriminate in the sense of placing a disproportionate burden without adequate justification. To put it another way: for the APA to defend the claim that there is unjustifiable burdening, the APA will have to endorse officially a certain disputed view on the ethics of marriage and human sexuality, and commit itself to the falsity of any view, secular or religious, that disagrees.

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