Acting under a veto threat from the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives today voted for provisions in a social services bill that allow religiously based job discrimination in publicly funded programs run by churches.
Several representatives offered three amendments to the Community Services Block Grants Act (H.R. 3030) that would have required "faith-based" agencies that receive federal dollars to abide by civil rights laws and to ensure that their programs are run in a secular manner. Those amendments were defeated, in votes generally following party lines.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, along with other public interest groups, had urged Congress to support amendments to the Act that would ensure that federal grants do not subsidize job bias or promote religion.
"The House has voted for federally subsidized employment discrimination," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It's that simple. This bill undermines our constitutional rights and rolls back vital civil rights protections."
Religious Right groups and the Bush administration pressured the House to maintain the special hiring privileges for religious groups that operate programs with public funds. (Non-religious groups that get funding through the measure are forbidden to discriminate.)
On Feb. 3, James Dobson's influential Focus on the Family issued an activist alert. If faith-based organizations were barred from hiring on the basis of religion, said FOF, it would mean, "Christian charities interested in accepting federal funds would be required to ignore religious conviction in hiring even if potential employees practiced Islam, Judaism or no religion at all."
The Bush administration, seeking to advance its "faith-based" initiative, also announced its strong support for religiously based hiring discrimination. In a Feb. 4 "Statement of Administration Policy," the White House urged House members to defeat efforts to alter the Act and threatened a veto if the employment discrimination protections were removed.
"Government-subsidized programs should never discriminate on the basis of religion," Lynn added. "Today's vote reveals a callous disregard of civil rights laws as well as a flawed understanding the First Amendment principle of church-state separation."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.