Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Religious Discrimination and the ALA

Last week I noticed the oddest job advertisement I’ve ever seen on the ALA job listings. It’s for a library director position at some place called The Principia.

Here’s the part that seemed odd to me:

Minimum Qualifications


Despite the plural, that was the only qualification listed in the ad. To get more information, you have to email them, which signals to me they’re trying to hide something.

If, like me, you hadn’t heard of The Principia, you could probably tell from the screaming minimum qualification that it’s a Christian Scientist organization, and it claims to be a liberal arts college, only one where “students, faculty, and staff are expected to be practicing Christian Scientists who rely on God for healing and regularly attend a Christian Science Sunday School or church.”

So much for academic freedom, open debate, intellectual diversity, and all those other things we hope to find in colleges. They do probably spend a lot less on the health center than other colleges, though, so maybe that lowers the tuition costs.

The very brief ad with little information and the all caps minimum qualification were odd in themselves, but the qualification alone should have been a signal to the ALA that this ad wasn’t appropriate for an organization that opposes discriminatory hiring practices.

Is the ALA so desperate for ad revenue that they’ll advertise library jobs at places that practice discrimination in hiring?

The ALA has a fund, the Merritt Humanitarian Fund, that  “is devoted to the support, maintenance, medical care, and welfare of librarians who, in the Trustees’ opinion, are: Denied employment rights or discriminated against on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, religion, age, disability, or place of national origin.”

One might think that an organization with a fund like this might balk at advertising for a library that actively promoted religious discrimination in hiring.

It’s not clear to me if this discrimination is even legal. According to the EEOC website, “An employee cannot be forced to participate (or not participate) in a religious activity as a condition of employment.”

And here it’s noted that, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment.”

So if the EEOC is correct, then The Principia is in clear violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If that’s the case, they’ve probably never been challenged in court because no one but a Christian Scientist would want to work there anyway.

Though many consider Christian Science to be a cult rather than a religion, and certainly not a science in any sense, that’s irrelevant for my point. The only difference I can tell between a cult and a religion is the number of people who believe the teachings, and there are plenty of required beliefs in every revealed religion that require faith rather than reason to accept.

Once you accept the idea that there’s an immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient being who somehow knows and cares about every human being and intercedes in human affairs, then it’s kind of silly to fight about the details, though that’s all many religious believers throughout history have wanted to fight about.

Thus, it doesn’t matter to me about the particular religion here. I would make the same criticism if there was an ad at the ALA job site for a library requiring a candidate to be Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Hindu, or for that matter red headed, left handed, Asian, or homosexual.

The question is whether the organization that supposedly represents American libraries should implicitly approve of a library that openly discriminates in hiring on the basis of religion. Is that acceptable to the ALA, or to you? Or was this ad accepted without thinking about its implications?

My suggestion: drop the ad. Let libraries with discriminatory hiring practices find another venue to hawk their jobs.



  1. I’ve seen more than my share of librarian job ads at private, religious colleges that require the applicant to be a member/believer of their faith. On one hand, I can understand the idea that they want their staff/faculty to support the core beliefs of their institution. On the other hand and as an agnostic/humanist, it is completely unfair and a discriminatory practice.

    Though, given my beliefs (or non-beliefs, as it were), I probably wouldn’t be comfortable in a very religious environment, even if they were open to other beliefs.

    So I’m torn between indignation and “I wouldn’t have applied anyways”. But legally, yeah, that ain’t cool.

  2. Bruce Campbell says:

    This is watchdog journalism at its finest.

    My hat is off to you.

    I wonder what kind of internet filtering they have at their college library.

    Maybe ALA can just pray that this ad will disappear.

  3. Awesome says:

    And here I thought you were going to write about the hubbub on the LITA-L list about a conference being held at the tail end of Rosh Hashanah. You should write about the email exchange that went back and forth over that, it was fun to watch.

  4. We were talking about this job a while ago and wondering if it includes health insurance in the benefits package.

  5. It is, apparently, legal for religious-based organizations to hire only those who share the same religious views, particularly in non-profit organizations.

  6. Many libraries discriminate against irrelevant considerations, such as age, but at least they have the decency not to be upfront about it. They code it, like saying “enthusiastic” when they mean “young.” I have no idea what the code for Christian Scientist would be, though.

  7. Private Catholic schools require (often) that you be catholic, or at least have a belief in a god, to work there. This is the same thing. Both are dumb, but at their discretion as private institutions. The ALA just took their money for the job post, right?

  8. That would be a §702 exemption for religion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In this case, since the College is directly affiliated with the Church of Christian Science and is financially supported by the Church, they can legally require that the employee be a member if the church. They cannot however discriminate for other reasons, such as race, sex or national origin.

  9. They also cannot discriminate for age.

  10. Varzil, it looks like Principia is NOT affiliated with the Christian Science Church. From their about page:

    “The College is not affiliated with the Christian Science Church, and Christian Science is not taught as a subject, but its principles form the basis of community life at Principia.”

  11. Randal Powell says:

    There’s no doubt that rigid, pre-packaged worldviews impede academic freedom, open debate, and intellectual diversity. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is very common; most organizations are just craftier in their screening.

  12. You’ve made a lame argument here and Varzil pretty much nailed it. To say that this school must be willing to hire non-Christian Scientists is like saying the Catholic Church can’t discriminate against Protestants when hiring priests.

    My fiancee found the same thing when she was looking for elementary teaching jobs. There was an ad for a job at a private Christian academy that required the applicant to be a practicing Christian who would teach Young-Earth Creationism and who (in her case) would only teach music that conformed to their religious beliefs. She didn’t like the restrictions, so she didn’t apply for the job.

    Believe it or not, the freedom of religion in this country allows religions to preach and teach as they please. If the government were to force a religious institution to hire people who didn’t follow that religion, they would be violating their first amendment rights to practice their religion free from government interference.

  13. The librarian/priest analogy isn’t a good analogy, regardless of the strength or weakness of the argument here. A Protestant Catholic priest or a Catholic rabbi are contradictions in terms. There’s nothing inherent in the job of librarian that requires any religious views at all.

  14. I’m surprised so many people think it’s dumb for a religious institution to want to hire like-minded people. Working from a similar viewpoint does not equal groupthink. I worked at a fairly conservative Baptist college and while there were certain things one couldn’t question, there was a great deal of variance amongst the faculty about a number of things, such as evolution, the government’s role, and social issues.

    Does the AARP hire young people?

  15. Does Lane Bryant hire skinny people?

  16. NorCalLibGal says:

    Does Ben & Jerry’s hire vegans?

  17. me too says:

    AL, you mock believers, but I simply ask, “if it all ends at the grave, what’s the use in living at all? If it all ends in a permanent dirt nap, why bother?

  18. Andrew says:

    A lot of people are focusing on the rights of a religious organization choosing to hire based on religious discrimination when the real thrust of the article is the ALA running the job ad when they’ve taken such a prominent stance against religious discrimination in hiring practices in the past.

  19. @me too: Think about the concept of eternity after death and realize how much more horrific that would be than a “permanent dirt nap.” Why bother? We make our own meaning. If your only meaning in life is due to what comes after, that’s kind of depressing. And I don’t see where AL is mocking believers. What did she say that was untrue?

    Back to the main subject (sorry for the above rant):
    I’ve seen several jobs I’m qualified for that I can’t apply to. I’m an atheist and not hiding that. If it comes up or if I have to sign some faith statement to get hired, I’m not going to lie. It does bother me that these places discriminate, but I wouldn’t want to work at a full-blown religious institution anyway. I do wonder what would happen if a library position required the applicant to be an atheist or non-religious?

  20. Like previous posters have commented, I’ve seen similiar religious requirements. One evangelical Christian college wanted a letter of testimony from the pastor at your church while another wanted to know exactly what church you (the applicant) attended (ie name, street address, and denomination) in the application packed.

  21. Annoyed Librarian says:

    me too, where have I “mocked believers”? I certainly didn’t intend to. I was going out of my way to say this wasn’t about Christian Science as such, since Christian Scientists are often attacked for their beliefs, as often by fellow Christians as anyone else. My point was that choosing to believe in the Christian God or not is a much more momentous choice than whether one believes and then chooses to be a Christian Scientist, Southern Baptist, or Catholic. Christians have historically been much more willing to fight over small differences than celebrate significant commonalities.

    And Andrew got my point, that the main question is why ALA is hosting this ad, not the ad itself.

  22. I’m sure the ALA gets paid to run the ad and doesn’t ask questions. I wouldn’t if you gave me your money and you weren’t doing anything illegal.

  23. Amanda says:

    Even though the job ad you mentioned was ridiculous, it is legal, and the ALA is definitely not supporting discriminatory hiring practices. If there is a practicing Christian Scientist librarian out there, let them apply – because I certainly won’t be.

  24. Annoyed says:

    Every hiring involves discrimination.

    From tossing out applicants who don’t meet the minimum advertised requirements, to the final decision between two equally qualified individuals, there is discrimination going on.

    Especially when it gets down the end where the are very few qualified individuals left. Only one is going to get hired, so the rest are being discriminated against.

  25. Bruce Campbell says:

    Annoyed – That’s called discretion.

  26. Annoyed says:

    Discretion — The freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation.

    Discrimination — Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.

    Potato Poatatoe

    Let’s call the whole thing off.

    And this if from someone who was actively discriminated against in the library field. Did I call a lawyer, nope. I sucked it up and moved on.

  27. Bruce Campbell says:

    What was the cause of your discrimination, Annoyed?

    Age? Gender? Disability?

  28. Randal Powell says:

    Annoyed is correct that hiring decisions in libraries are often shady, to say the least; corporate America is almost wholesome in comparison. Furthermore, the field is so clannish and parochial that anyone in any position of power can destroy someone’s career at the drop of hat. People contemplating going into the field need to be aware of this, because it is not obvious from the outside.

  29. Former Librarian says:

    Re: clannish and parochial

    Library hiring decisions are based mostly on “fit with the organization.” This means you should look and think like other staff. Some libraries hire young techie hipsters, and others stick to middle-aged liberal white women. In the corporate world, you actually have to perform or the business will shut down, so hiring is based on qualifications. The library world is less interested in what you can do and more interested in what you won’t (threaten the comfort zone.) Any wonder the profession has such a hard time attracting librarians of color or any other aspect of diversity? At least this library was honest. A lot of librarians spread little white lies instead (postings for nonexistent jobs, positions custom designed for internal candidates, talk of librarian shortage, etc.)

  30. I’d say if that ALA did NOT post this ad, the ALA would themselves be guilty of discrimination against religious institutions. They made the right decision in posting it. The Christian Scientists are a privately funded religious organization who are using legally sound criteria in their hiring practices, and as such, they are entitled to require anyone they hire to represent their organization as a follower of the faith. Refusing to run their ad would display an ignorance in understanding of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

    If you read further on the link you provided (, you would see that religious institutions are perfectly entitled to include religion as a factor in hiring. Title VII states: “This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.”

    Let’s see the ALA alienate and exclude every library and librarian who works in a faith-based organization because they practice “religious discrimination”. Yeah, that would go over like a lead balloon.

  31. You definitely didn’t do your research on this topic. Neither did anyone else, apparently. I found this in under 5 minutes just by clicking a few links deeper into one you gave in your post.

    More from the EEOC:
    Compliance manual at
    See 12-I section C under “Exceptions:”
    1. Religious OrganizationsUnder Title VII, religious organizations are permitted to give employment preference to members of their own religion.[42] The exception applies only to those institutions whose “purpose and character are primarily religious.”[43] That determination is to be based on “[a]ll significant religious and secular characteristics.”[44] Although no one factor is dispositive, significant factors to consider that would indicate whether an entity is religious include:

    •Do its articles of incorporation state a religious purpose?
    •Are its day-to-day operations religious (e.g., are the services the entity performs, the product it produces, or the educational curriculum it provides directed toward propagation of the religion)?
    •Is it not-for-profit?
    •Is it affiliated with or supported by a church or other religious organization? [45]
    This exception is not limited to religious activities of the organization.[46] However, it only allows religious organizations to prefer to employ individuals who share their religion.[47] The exception does not allow religious organizations otherwise to discriminate in employment on protected bases other than religion, such as race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.[48] Thus, a religious organization is not permitted to engage in racially discriminatory hiring by asserting that a tenet of its religious beliefs is not associating with people of other races. Similarly, a religious organization is not permitted to deny fringe benefits to married women but not to married men by asserting a religiously based view that only men can be the head of a household.

    Also, in response to Sidney’s comment:
    “There’s nothing inherent in the job of librarian that requires any religious views at all.”
    This would only be true if the librarian never left their office, had zero contact with students, performed no collection development, developed no instructional materials, etc. Maybe they could catalog. Your argument might stand in the unlikely case of a librarian who has nothing to do with the education of a student. ?

  32. PremproPosse says:

    Leah, ALA *is* a lead balloon.

  33. Randal Powell says:


    Appeal to authority is a rather superficial technique for arguing for a position. Government policies are written by people with motives, and do not represent what is right and good in any way.

  34. Randal,

    I offered the facts, which neither you nor the AL could be bothered to do. Shame on me, a librarian, presenting facts. How superficial of me!

    I’m not sure of your point. For a government to require a privately-funded religious entity to hire nonfollowers of their faith is prohibiting the free exercise of that religion by interfering with the mission of that institution. Would you prefer for our government to interfere with the religious practice of its citizens? I guess it’s time that we scrap that useless, outdated Bill of Rights, huh?

  35. Did anyone else notice that the number of references to actual library experience in the job posting could be counted using hen’s teeth? There is no mention of any library-related education; no mention of experience; no mention of organizational or computer skills.

    I take more offense that a library manager does not need any actual library experience than the religiousness of the post.

    Is this becoming a common trend? That administration does not need the core skills of what they are administering? Or should it just be assumed that the people who would like this job would have these skills and qualifications?

  36. I hate when librarians are ignorant and fail to do appropriate legal research. “Title VII permits employers to hire and employ employees on the basis of religion if religion is “a bona fide occupational qualification [“BFOQ”] reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.”[68] Religious organizations do not typically need to rely on this BFOQ defense, however, because the “religious organization” exception in Title VII permits them to prefer their co-religionists.” See

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