WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee approved the annual Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill last night. The bill included measures that would provide government support for religious institutions and restrict reproductive health care and voting access.
Faiz Shakir, national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, issued the following statement:
“Congress’ intent here is clear: to provide special tax favors to religious organizations, the very kind of religious favoritism that the Constitution was designed to prevent. The bill also perpetuates the continued assault on reproductive health and rights by restricting women’s ability to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures. And at a time when we need to improve access to the ballot, the bill will cut the funding for and eventually eliminate the Election Assistance Commission as part of a wider effort to suppress the vote.
“The ACLU opposes any effort to include these discriminatory and unconstitutional policies in any spending agreement.”
The bill includes a provision, Section 116, which would make it difficult for the IRS to investigate claims that churches — and only churches — have violated the law by engaging in partisan political activity. Giving special tax benefits and privileges to religious organizations that are not available to other, non-religious organizations violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Currently, churches and religious leaders cannot be sanctioned by the IRS for speaking out on political and social issues. Religious leaders are free to endorse or support political candidates as private citizens. This provision would privilege religious organizations over all other non-profits.
The bill also contains language restricting reproductive health care, including a provision that prohibits the District of Columbia from spending its own local funds to cover abortion services for low-income women, a provision that restricts abortion coverage for federal employees and their dependents, and a provision that bans abortion coverage in all multi-state plans under the Affordable Care Act. These restrictions make abortion care unaffordable and put it out of reach for many women.
Reps. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to strike Section 116. Rep. Lee also offered an amendment to strike the District of Columbia abortion coverage ban, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) offered an amendment to strike the multi-state plan abortion coverage ban from the appropriations bill. Rep. Michael Quigley (D-IL) offered an amendment to restore the Election Assistance Commission funding to match last year’s. All of these amendments failed.