Charitable Choice Legislation Could Subsidize Religious Bigotry, Sponsor Concedes

Bob Jones Church Eligible For Funding, But Wiccans Probably Not, Says Indiana Rep. Souder

Churches can engage in open religious bigotry and continue to receive federal housing funding under "charitable choice" legislation approved by the House of Representatives yesterday.

The House was considering the American Homeownership and Economic Opportunity Act (H.R. 1776), a $6.9-billion program intended to make it easier for municipal employees to buy a home. An amendment sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) added charitable choice language to the bill that makes religious institutions eligible for funding under the legislation. Souder's controversial amendment passed 299-124. (The full bill passed by a 417-8 vote.)

During a floor debate yesterday, Souder was forced to concede that under his proposal, churches affiliated with institutions such as Bob Jones University could engage in federally funded religious discrimination. Souder also conceded that some minority religious groups would probably be denied funding under his plan.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has led the fight against charitable choice funding since its inception in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, found Souder's floor remarks revealing and deeply problematic.

"The secret's out: charitable choice funds religious bigotry with our tax dollars," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Every American who values basic fairness and decency should be appalled."

On the House floor, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) asked Souder, "Next year, would a church associated with Bob Jones University be able to put out a sign saying, 'Using your tax dollars, no Catholics need apply here for a job'?"

In response, Souder said, "If Secretary Cuomo or the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development chose to give [federal funding] to a place that would discriminate on that basis, which could include Jewish, Catholic, evangelical, then that could happen."

Souder went on to acknowledge that some minority religious groups probably would not get funding under his proposal.

Edwards asked Souder, "Would the Wiccans be able to apply for federal tax funding?"

Souder, apparently looking beyond the November election, responded, "It is unlikely under President Bush that the witches would get funding."

Charged AU's Lynn, "Souder proved a point we have been making for several years. Under charitable choice, federal tax dollars can go to religious groups that could then use the money to openly discriminate. This is fundamentally un-American.

"Souder's remarks about Wiccans were equally troubling," Lynn concluded. "Under his approach, religious groups he approves of get aid from the government, and groups he doesn't like get left out. For a member of Congress to endorse this narrow-minded approach is shameful and offensive."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.

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.