House Committee Approves D.c. Voucher Bill

Americans United Says Proposal Would Subsidize Religious Schooling And Employment Discrimination

A federal school voucher bill that would subsidize religious education has passed a committee in Congress.

By a one-vote margin, the U.S. House's Committee on Government Reform today approved a bill that would offer students in Washington, D.C., vouchers of up to $7,500 per year to pay for tuition at religious and other private schools. The committee also kept a controversial provision within the bill, which is backed by the Bush administration, allowing participating private schools to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion and gender.

The bill, called the D.C. Parental Choice Incentive Act of 2003 (H.R. 2556), includes a provision that states federal funds "made available under this Act may be used for religious educational purposes, and no participating school shall be required to remove religious art, icons, scriptures, or other symbols."

Civil liberties, education and other public interest groups had urged the committee to defeat the bill, noting that few District residents support vouchers.

"This bill undermines public education and diverts taxpayer dollars to religious schooling," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "The District's children need real solutions to school problems, not political grandstanding like this bill.

"The closeness of the vote in committee shows just how controversial this measure is," continued Lynn. "I am optimistic that the voucher scheme ultimately will be defeated."

Lynn said it is disappointing that the committee approved a bill that would allow publicly funded private schools to discriminate in hiring based on religion and sex.

"The bill shows no concern for federal, state and local civil rights laws," Lynn said. "It singles out religious schools and says they don't have to play by the rules that all other publicly funded schools must follow. "

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.