Churches and nonprofit ministries get to purchase software from some companies at a steep discount thanks to charity licensing. If you’re a church or ministry and didn’t know that, you’re spending way too much on common software products like Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec, etc. Some new software charity licensing agreements include social engineering non-discrimination requirements. Which are they? What do they require churches and nonprofits to agree to? And are you safe to just accept them?

Historical Perspective

Some of us who have been in church and nonprofit IT for a long time have been part of the lobbying effort that got software companies to agree to let churches and other nonprofit ministries buy software at steeply discounted prices similar to the way educational institutions do. There is a strong business case for companies to give charity discounts, and most see the wisdom in doing so. Some new software licenses have some troubling new requirements, though.

Recent Trend

When Google offered Google Apps charity pricing, they began a trend that some others are joining in on. They included social engineering non-discrimination clauses that were not in previous charity licensing agreements. The clause is making some in ministry uncomfortable, and many are avoiding these agreements or are forging ahead knowing they may have to fund and endure a legal battle.

Companies like Google are doing nothing illegal by requiring these non-discrimination clauses— even though the groups they are protecting are not protected by law. They have the right to donate their products and profits any way they’d like, and can use whatever filters they want in deciding who will benefit from their philanthropy.

Non-Discrimination Clause

For some churches and ministries the non-discrimination clauses fit within their doctrine and pose no concern. For others, the clauses cause great concern. It’s not my role to judge or insist one way or the other is correct. But for those who might not be comfortable with the clauses, it’s important to inform them and let them decide what they’d like to do.

 In Google Apps’ charity license application, you must certify that your organization “does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring/ employment practices.” At one time they included “except as allowed by law” in their license agreement, but Google has removed that phrase (they can modify the agreement at any time with or without notice). For some that clause poses a concern because of their doctrine on those related issues, with or without the exclusion.

 Microsoft has a similar clause in their O365 charity license. They state that organizations not eligible to participate in their O365 charity licensing program include those who, “engage in discrimination in hiring, compensation, access to training or services, promotion… based on… gender identity or expression… sexual orientation… other than as allowed by law….” There are currently no federal requirements protecting those gender orientation/ expression-related issues, but Microsoft could follow Google’s lead and remove the exception.

 By the way: these issues are not included in the VLA charity license agreement for Microsoft software.

Government & Court Trends

President Obama has demonstrated a pattern of bypassing Congress by using executive orders and regulations instead of laws to accomplish some of his objectives. Many expect that he will, by executive order, add gender orientation/ expression to the current list of groups (race, national origin, etc) protected from discrimination. That may or may not happen, and at this time is only conjecture.

 There are a few states that are very aggressive in this area: California, Colorado, and Washington, in which churches and ministries may want to be even more cautious if they have concerns about these clauses. And more states will likely follow.

 The Supreme Court will soon announce their decision on the Sebelius vs Hobby Lobby case. Their decision will indicate whether the current court is inclined to protect religious freedoms or not. Put another way:

  • A decision for Hobby Lobby will indicate that the Supreme Court is inclined to protect the freedoms The Church and its members have enjoyed to express their beliefs in all its various doctrinal expressions. Even though Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, a decision in their favor will be a welcome and positive signal to The Church.
  • A decision against Hobby Lobby will suggest the opposite. The next step to determine how the court will approach this for nonprofits (vs for-profits) will be to get one or some of the church-related ministries that are opposed to some of the abortifacient provisions of ACA before the Supreme Court.

 We definitely need to keep an eye on those developments.

Nick’s Recommendations

If your church or ministry doctrine is uncomfortable with the social engineering aspects of these newer charity license requirements, it seems you either need to say no to them, or to say yes but make certain you have a quick exit strategy. Just in case. Otherwise, the for-profit pricing knocks the cost way out of line when compared to the normal charity licensing costs.

Nick Nicholaou is president of MBS, an IT consulting firm specializing in church and ministry computer networks, VoIP, and private cloud hosted services.  You can reach Nick at [email protected], and may want to check out his firm’s website (www.mbsinc.com) and his blog at http://ministry-it.blogspot.com.