‘Faith-Based’ Battle Over Head Start Brewing

An Ohio congressman is pushing a provision that would allow religiously affiliated Head Start programs to hire and fire on the basis of religious belief.

U.S. Rep. John Boehner argues that a controversial element of the Bush administration’s “faith-based” initiative should be injected into Head Start programs. His proposal seeks to amend long-standing Head Start policy to permit religious groups to base employment decisions on religious belief.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, working in a coalition of other religious and public interest groups, has opposed adding faith-based language to the School Readiness Act, H.R. 2123. Americans United and its allies argue that altering Head Start would allow tax dollars to fund job bias on the basis of religion.

In an “Action Alert” sent to members in early June, Americans United urged concerned citizens to voice opposition to Boehner’s attempt to alter Head Start.

Coalition members include African American Ministers in Action, the American Jewish Committee, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the American Civil Liberties Union. The groups have sent numerous letters to House members urging the preservation of civil rights protections. In a May 17 letter, the coalition noted that since 1981, Head Start legislation has included “civil rights protection against employment discrimination for Head Start teachers and volunteers.”

The House passed a similar bill during the 108th session, but it failed to win Senate approval.

The current measure was voted out of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in May. AU’s Legislative Department said a House vote on the new bill was unlikely before July 4, but possible before the August recess.