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Hiring Freedom vs Software Platform Policies

© 2021 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
Founder, GreenDot.Press
Reprinted from XPastor.org

The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that churches and ministries have the right to only hire those who agree with their religious and doctrinal views, but many IT solution providers require churches and ministries to certify that they do not discriminate in their employment or hiring practices as a condition of qualifying for a donation from that provider in the form of a heavily discounted charity license. Let’s talk about software services and what’s changed since the U.S. 2020 election.

Many of us on every side of the political spectrum were surprised to see some things politicized that we never anticipated would be. That includes things like what you could say in the ‘public square’ using tools like Twitter and Facebook. It also includes things like what results search engines would show– or, more importantly, would not show.

Is there a lesson for the church in what we saw? There is, and it directly relates to Matthew 10:16– I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (NIV)

Churches and ministries have the opportunity to purchase many software licenses at charity rates, but it is possible to jeopardize some rights otherwise guaranteed to churches and ministries in how that is done! Here’s how to avoid that possibility.

The Church in the World
The Church operates in the physical world, of course, and to do that efficiently, we are wise to use the tools available to help us fulfill our call. We recognize that our message is contrary to that of the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:1-2). It should not surprise us, then, that some of the providers of the tools we like to use are in opposition to the church and some of its doctrinal positions. This will likely increase in the future.

I have heard from many Christian churches and ministries who are concerned that their data is hosted by a platform that is beginning to act in opposition to their doctrine. Those churches want to move away from those platforms. The current area of major concern is the requirement of many providers to accept their charity license terms, some of which include agreeing not to discriminate regarding employment practices along religious or sexual orientation/expression lines. That is problematic for a large percentage of churches and ministries.

I am not advocating for any doctrinal positions in this article. I am hoping to bring awareness of an important trend.

What’s the Problem?
Most churches and ministries want to reach those who do not agree with them religiously or doctrinally. That’s not what the concern is. The concern is whether or not those churches can choose to only hire those who agree with their religious and doctrinal views.

The challenge is that U.S. Supreme Court recognized that churches have the right to only hire those who agree with their religious and doctrinal views. Yet, in order to receive a discounted charity license, many IT solution providers require churches and ministries to certify that they do not discriminate in their employment or hiring practices.

Does simply clicking the box making that certification put a church in jeopardy? Possibly, and that’s the problem. I see two problematic scenarios:

  1. Integrity. If the box is inaccurately checked so the church or ministry can qualify for charitable licensing, that may be an integrity compromise. Similar to how you decide what organizations you want to support with your contributions, those solution providers are using that as a filter to decide to whom they want to donate the value of their solution. The result of inaccurately checking the we don’t discriminate box may be tricking them into donating something to someone they do not want to support. It would be more appropriate for the church or ministry to pay full price rather than falsely get approved for charity licensing (see 2 Corinthians 8:21).
  2. Legal Exposure. Inaccurately checking the we do not discriminate box is not generally an issue of law. But it can become one if the issue is sexual orientation/expression and an employee declares themselves in violation of the church’s doctrine on that issue– if the church chooses to terminate them over that issue. If that terminated person sues for wrongful termination, and if their counsel learns the church checked the box saying they don’t discriminate, the results of the suit could be unfavorable to the church.

Which Providers Are We Talking About?
Google, Microsoft, and many others have that non-discrimination language in their charity license agreements. Microsoft corrected the issue in late 2015 after working with me to understand the concern. They added a statement that religious institutions are exempt from the employment non-discrimination portion of their agreement. They did that specifically because they want to work with churches and ministries! Google has not been responsive to the church in this area.

Microsoft’s solution is challenging, however, because they contracted with a company called TechSoup to process their applications for charity licensing. Recently TechSoup changed their internal rules and now require those same certifications in the TechSoup account setup process to request a Microsoft Charity License approval, even though Microsoft states churches and ministries are exempt!

The Fix Is Now Available
Working with Microsoft again to address the TechSoup account certification issue, they created a way to complete the application without establishing a TechSoup account, and then to get access to their charity licenses without involving TechSoup! Here are the necessary steps:

  1. You need to be recognized by Microsoft as a charity to access their charity licensing prices. To complete your application for Microsoft Charity Licensing, complete the form accessible at this link: https://nonprofit.microsoft.com/en-us/getting-started. TechSoup still processes the application, but this approach eliminates having to establish a TechSoup account. It can take 2-4 weeks to get your approval, but usually happens much faster.
  2. Once you have your approval, create your tenant (that’s what Microsoft calls your M365 account). They may provide a link to do so when notifying you of your approval.
  3. Then access the Microsoft store to get your licenses! Depending on what products you choose, some or all will be free, and some may have a charity license discounted price.

It’s great that Microsoft is willing to accommodate the needs of churches and ministries who can’t check the we don’t discriminate box with integrity. They recognize our right to discriminate in our hiring and employment practices as guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court. It has been my privilege to help in that resolution.

8/6/2021 UPDATE: Some are emailing, unable to find Microsoft’s discrimination exemption for Christian churches and ministries. Microsoft is constantly rearranging things on their websites; the exemption is now on the non-profits FAQ page (see https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/nonprofits/faq). In addition, here’s a link to a screenshot of that page: https://www.mbsinc.com/microsoft-nonprofit-faqs-8-6-2021/ (see the red box at the bottom of the screenshot).

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