Americans United Urges House Panel To Reject Religious Discrimination In Head Start

'Faith-Based' Job Bias Should Not Be Injected Into Federally Funded Pre-School Program, Says AU's Lynn

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is urging Congress to block efforts to permit religious discrimination in hiring for Head Start programs.

Tomorrow the House Committee on Education and Labor will consider a reauthorization bill of the popular pre-school education program, Head Start. During the markup of the measure, one amendment and possibly more are likely to be offered that would repeal longstanding civil rights provisions that bar participating religious organizations from discriminating on the basis of religion when hiring or firing employees for Head Start programs.

“Lawmakers should reject any attempt to undermine the civil rights protections of the Head Start program,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Head Start staff should be judged on their abilities and qualifications, not their beliefs about religion.

“If the law is changed to allow religious groups to discriminate in operating Head Start programs,” Lynn charged, “many well-qualified teachers stand to lose their jobs.”

Head Start, a popular federally funded program that helps prepare disadvantaged youngsters for school, since 1972 has contained language barring employment discrimination. The program, which provides needy pre-school children with tutoring, dental care and other educational and health benefits, has long had bipartisan support.

The civil rights provisions were signed into the law by President Richard Nixon and re-authorized in 1981 with the civil rights protections under President Ronald Reagan.

Since assuming office, President George W. Bush has pushed his so-called “faith-based” initiative, which includes allowing religious groups to operate federally funded social service programs and discriminate in hiring for those programs.

Americans United in a March 7 letter to the House committee urged its members to keep the civil rights protections in the Head Start reauthorization bill.

Americans United is also working within a diverse coalition of public interest groups to defeat attempts to alter Head Start. Members of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD) include: American Baptist Churches, USA; American Federation of Teachers; the American Jewish Committee; the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; National Head Start Association; National Education Association; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

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.

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.