Keep Head Start Free Of Religious Discrimination, Says Americans United

Watchdog Group Deplores Effort To Undercut Popular Program With Discriminatory 'Faith-Based' Amendment

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today announced strong opposition to a congressional proposal to allow Head Start providers to discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring staff.

As currently written, the Head Start reauthorization bill, the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123), contains provisions barring discrimination in hiring. This language has been part of Head Start legislation since 1972, but U.S. Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Charles Boustany (R-La.) have promised a floor fight over the matter. Boehner and Boustany insist that religious groups that sponsor Head Start programs should be permitted to hire and fire on religious grounds, even though the program does not contain religious content.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn noted that Head Start serves low-income children and their families.

“Our children deserve better than this,” Lynn said. “A popular program like Head Start should not become the victim of divisive games in Washington.”

Americans United noted that the Head Start reauthorization bill emerged from the Education and Workforce Committee with unanimous support without Boehner’s amendment. Given this strong bipartisan support, it is counterproductive to try to add such a controversial amendment now.

“Americans support Head Start and oppose religious discrimination. It makes no sense to undercut this popular program with a useless floor fight,” said Lynn. “The Republican majority seems determined to sabotage their own bill.”

A 2001 poll by the Pew Forum found that 78 percent of respondents oppose allowing “faith-based” groups to discriminate in hiring with taxpayer funds.

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.