Saturday, October 12, 2002

A Right to Bias Is Put to the Test
Do religious institutions that are ordinarily free to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion lose that freedom by accepting government money?

"This is an unresolved issue," said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Texas who is an expert in the law of religious liberty.

"Congress is bitterly divided over it," Professor Laycock added, referring to the uncertain fate of legislation to spend more government money on secular services provided by religious institutions. A crucial element of the debate over the legislation is whether receiving such money should limit an institution's ability to discriminate.

The Georgia lawsuit was brought by Alan M. Yorker, who was turned down for a job at a foster home in Decatur because he is Jewish.

"I remember thinking that this would be the perfect job," Mr. Yorker said, recalling an advertisement in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year: the United Methodist Children's Home was seeking a psychological therapist.

Mr. Yorker, 53, sent his résumé, which set out credentials that included degrees from Columbia and Georgia State, teaching at Emory, government service and decades of practice in adolescent and family therapy.

But the interview did not go well. The application he filled out that day called for his religion, church and four references, "including one minister." He wrote that he was Jewish, and listed his synagogue and his rabbi of 24 years.

Sherri Rawsthorn, a supervisor at the home, later conceded in court papers that Mr. Yorker had been "one of the top candidates for the position." On learning he was Jewish, though, she ended the interview. "We don't hire people of your faith," Mr. Yorker said she told him.