House Vote Allowing Religious Discrimination In Head Start Hiring Is Shameful, Says Americans United

Church-State Watchdog Group Calls On Senate To Reject 'Faith-Based' Job Bias In Publicly Funded Program

The House of Representatives today voted 220-196 to allow religious discrimination in hiring for Head Start programs, a move Americans United for Separation of Church and State calls a serious blow to religious liberty and civil rights.

“This is a shameful vote,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Publicly funded programs ought to hire the best qualified applicant. I am outraged that House members have inserted religious discrimination into a program like Head Start.”

Aimed at academically disadvantaged youngsters and their families, Head Start is a federally funded pre-school program that operates nationwide. Although sometimes sponsored by religious groups, Head Start is a secular program open to children of all faith backgrounds.

Lynn said he is confident the Senate will not permit discriminatory language to remain in the bill.

“The vote in the House was quite close,” Lynn said, “and momentum is clearly building against taxpayer-funded job bias.”

Under the amendment approved today, religious groups that sponsor Head Start programs would be able to restrict hiring to members of their own faith. Such a move, Americans United contends, is completely unnecessary.

“Under this amendment, Americans could be denied Head Start jobs solely on the basis of religious belief,” Lynn said. “Why on earth would we encourage discrimination in a tax-funded program? It’s simply unacceptable.”

Lynn pointed out that since Head Start does not teach religion, there is no need for religious groups to engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Head Start staff, he said, should be chosen on their ability to work successfully with disadvantaged children.

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.