An impending vote on a major job-training bill in Congress is likely to be the next battle over the White House's "faith-based" agenda, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Late last month, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent to the floor a bill that would allow "faith-based" groups to receive job training funds and still discriminate on religious grounds in hiring.
"It's outrageous that lawmakers are seriously considering a job training bill that would permit publicly funded religious discrimination in hiring," said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Bias has no place in any government-funded program."
Americans United has joined with civil rights, labor, education and health advocacy organizations to oppose provisions of the "Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act" (H.R. 1261). The groups are urging Congress to keep the civil rights protections that have been part of federal job training programs since the Reagan administration.
In a letter last month to the House's education and workforce committee, Americans United and an array of other public interest groups noted that for 23 years federal job training programs have barred religious employment discrimination and the requirement has received bipartisan support. Some of the groups that signed the letter include the American Association of University Women, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the ACLU and the American Jewish Committee.
Representatives from many of the civil rights, labor and education groups are also launching a Capitol Hill lobbying campaign this week against the proposed rollback of civil rights safeguards.
Less than a month ago, the Senate passed a watered-down "faith-based" bill after sponsors agreed to dump a provision giving special exemptions to churches and other religious groups. At that time, however, the White House signaled a continued drive to include privileged treatment for "faith-based" organizations in as many federal funding bills as possible.
James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told the Associated Press that the administration's acquiescence on the Senate bill does not mean the president is giving up his broader "faith-based" push.
"This is really more of a legislative strategy issue -- what can you do now versus what can you do later," Towey said. He added that the administration would continue to try to open programs to religious groups individually as they are debated in Congress.
"There are going to be debates this year on faith-based [issues]," Towey observed. "You can set your watch on that."
Lynn, who lauded the Senate for removing the contentious church-state provisions from its faith-based bill, said Americans United will continue to encourage its members to contact Congress and voice opposition to laws that would permit religious discrimination to take place in federally funded social service programs.
"This administration is determined to ram its 'faith-based' agenda through Congress without concern for the constitutional principle of church-state separation," Lynn said. "As long as this is the case, our organization and many others will continue to fight these actions every step of the way. "
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.