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Charity's Christians-only hiring policy draws fire

World Relief's rule is legal, but it has caused complaints and resignations by staffers who say it's discrimination.

April 02, 2010|By Manya A. Brachear
  • Saad Mohammad Ali says he applied for a job as a caseworker with World Relief but was turned down because he is not Christian.
Saad Mohammad Ali says he applied for a job as a caseworker with World Relief… (Ken Lambert / Seattle Times/MCT )

Reporting from Chicago — A prominent refugee resettlement organization has enacted a policy that requires new employees to be Christian, triggering staff complaints and departures by those who see it as discrimination.

World Relief, a global evangelical Christian charity that receives federal funds to resettle refugees, said the policy simply establishes a routine that has been in place for years.

"We felt we needed to put a formal policy in place that reflects a 65-year history of hiring according to our faith," said Stephan Bauman, senior vice president of programs for the Baltimore-based agency. "The policy is really just to galvanize our organization."

But staffers don't necessarily see it that way.

"As a Christian, I feel it is my duty to advocate for the most vulnerable," said former legal aide Trisha Teofilo, who left because of the policy. "I believe Jesus would not promote a policy of discrimination."

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the policy is legal. But opponents, including current and former employees, say it is hypocritical for an agency to discriminate when its mission is settling refugees -- many of whom have fled religious intolerance in their home countries.

"It's legal, but it's ridiculously wrong and un-Christian," said Delia Seeburg, the director of immigrant legal services in World Relief's Chicago office.

She plans to leave for a new job in April.

Although current employees don't have to be Christian, they risk termination if they don't affirm the organization's Christian mission statement "to follow Jesus by living holy, humble, and honest lives."

Mohammed Zeitoun, a Muslim employment counselor, is searching for a new job because he refused to affirm the Christian mission.

"To ask us to change who we are, it's not right, not in the country of the United States of America -- the land of the free," said Zeitoun, who was born and raised in Jordan.

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