"Faith-based" legislation introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives would violate the Constitution's church-state provisions and subject America's houses of worship to entangling government red tape and possible lawsuits, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The measure, known as the Community Solutions Act (H.R. 7), sponsored by Reps. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and Tony Hall (D-Ohio), includes controversial "charitable choice" provisions that give government grants and contracts to churches to provide social services. The legislation reflects the Bush administration's faith-based initiative announced in January.
"This bill clearly violates the Constitution," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It would jeopardize the legal rights of families in need, subvert state and local authorities and subject houses of worship to stifling regulations and possible legal actions."
Aside from the measure's constitutional pitfalls, AU's Lynn said the bill suffers from other fatal flaws.
According to Americans United's analysis,
* The Watts-Hall Bill Broadens Government-Funded Employment Discrimination The Watts-Hall bill actually worsens the most onerous part of the charitable choice scheme religious discrimination against employees and applicants applying for positions in government-funded programs. Compared to prior versions of charitable choice, the Watts-Hall bill would greatly expand the scope of this discrimination by allowing any religious group to engage in discrimination (as opposed to just those that elect an exemption under Title VII.) It also contains a clause that would authorize discrimination based on an employer's "religious practices" such as not hiring divorced people, gays or single mothers. The bill would also allow this "religious practices" discrimination to trump other federal laws and protections. Taxpayer dollars should never be used to discriminate against someone. It is both unconstitutional and morally wrong. The Watts-Hall bill tries to obfuscate this issue by listing other civil rights laws that would apply to the religious institution but it cannot hide the fact that this bill constitutes a huge step backwards on civil rights protections. (Sec. 201[Sec. 1994A(e)(1) & (2)]).
* The Watts-Hall Bill Allows Proselytization of People Seeking Help While the Watts-Hall bill says "no funds" should be expended for sectarian worship, instruction or proselytization, it still allows for proselytization of government beneficiaries in the program by privately paid employees of the institution. For example, a victim of domestic violence who seeks help through a government program could be proselytized or coerced into worship under the Watts-Hall bill, as long as the employee engaging in the activity is paid with private funds. (Sec. 201[Sec. 1994A(i)]).
* The Watts-Hall Bill Authorizes New Lawsuits Against State & Local Government Amazingly, the Watts-Hall bill authorizes new lawsuits against city, county and state governments and their officials -- available for religious organizations who believe that they were denied funding opportunities because of their "religious character." Of course, this blatantly ignores the reality that current Supreme Court case law prohibits the direct government funding of "pervasively sectarian" institutions. This will put city and county attorneys and their state attorney general colleagues in a legal "catch-22" whatever decision they make about funding a house of worship directly will result in a wave of litigation. (Sec. 201[Sec. 1994A(l)]).
* The Watts-Hall Bill's Elaborate Legal and Monetary Shell Game Will Harm Churches The Watts-Hall bill would impose a number of burdensome accounting mandates on houses of worship. The bill would also place houses of worship on shaky legal ground by setting up an illusory legal fiction that the funds provided to religious organizations are "not aid to the religious organizations" but rather "constitutes aid to individuals." This will only create yet another legal landmine for churches and other houses of worship that may attempt to make use of the Charitable Choice scheme. (Sec. 201[Sec. 1994A(c)(2) & (3)]).
"This bill is full of legal landmines," said Lynn. "It is written in a way to lead religious leaders to think they are on safe ground in accepting government money, while it actually puts them on quicksand. It should be rejected out of hand."
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.