ACLU Calls on Congress to Reject Funding of Religious Activities, Says Faith Based Initiative Goes Too Far and Threatens Civil Rights

June 21, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged lawmakers not to give the green light to the president’s plan to funnel taxpayer dollars to faith-based organizations to provide social services. Without the proper safeguards, the president’s “Faith-Based Initiative” will amount to little more than “government funded religion.”

“The government can – and has – provided assistance to faith-based and secular organizations to run social service programs so long as they all abide by the same rules,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, Senior Lobbyist with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The White House seeks to give religious organizations a special right to run publicly funded programs and to ignore the civil rights laws that apply to all other recipients of federal dollars. Religious organizations have the right to promote their religious views and run their operations as they see fit when using their own money, but not on the taxpayers’ dime.”

The House Government Reform Subcommittee on Federalism and the Census met today to consider the relationship between government and faith-based organizations to provide social services. Unable to gain the support of Congress for its plan, the Bush Administration has advanced its government funded religion plan through executive orders and regulatory changes. Under the guidelines promoted by the Bush Administration, faith-based social service providers would be given the right to discriminate in their hiring for federally funded jobs, preach to service recipients, and generally play by a different set of rules than their secular counterparts. Under the Bush plan, the neediest among us could find themselves offered salvation and not treatment.

At today’s hearing, witnesses in support of the faith based-initiative offered truly startling policy suggestions regarding pre-emption of state and local civil rights laws. The vast majority of federal funding for social service programs is administered through state and local governments, many of which offer greater civil rights protections. Lawmakers heard suggestions that such locally enacted protections be cast aside. Also suggested was an exemption for faith-based providers from the standard licensing and certification requirements in substance abuse and other treatment programs.

The ACLU noted that if the president’s push for government funded religion succeeds, social workers, psychologists, counselors and others seeking work in social service programs could be denied jobs solely because of their faith, gender, marital status of sexual orientation.

“The greatest irony here is that the current civil rights protections against discrimination in many federal programs date back to federal job-training legislation adopted 23 years ago – passed by a Republican Senate and signed by a Republican president,” Schroeder said. “Congress must not reverse our long-held belief that faith-based groups that receive federal funds must abide by non-discrimination laws.”

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