ACLU, Other Civil Rights Groups Oppose Government-Funded Religion, Call Faith-Based Bill Dangerous Civil Rights Threat Statement of Laura W. Murphy

July 17, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – I am delighted to join my colleagues in the civil rights community and the distinguished leaders of Congressional Black Caucus this morning to express our broad and resolute opposition to the President Bush’s initiative for government-funded discrimination in social services.

There can be no mistake. The legislation that is to be debated tomorrow on the House floor is nothing more than a faith-based prescription for discrimination. It would allow discrimination in federally funded workplaces and in the delivery of taxpayer-funded social services. The bill would also do next to nothing to help increase the government’s commitment to those in need because, despite President Bush’s promises, there is virtually no new money allocated to providing social services in America.

For 60 years, the federal government has demanded that tax dollars be used to protect fairness, equity, and equal opportunity. If the faith-based legislation becomes law, however, Congress and the Administration will have, in one dramatic change, laid waste to the crucial civil rights protections put in place during World War II under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

And contrary to the Administration’s statements in recent days, amendments to the measure have not increased civil rights protections. In fact, the only true changes in the bill that have survived committee review would further boost the ability of religious organizations to discriminate and proselytize in their federally funded activities. Indeed, the ACLU – along with many religious organizations – also has significant concerns about the legislation’s impact on the constitutional protection of religious freedom for all Americans outlined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The legislation before the House tomorrow would, for example, allow Cabinet Secretaries to convert federal grants — which traditionally come with protections against discrimination in services or hiring — to voucher programs that carry no such protections. Theoretically, a religious organization providing a voucherized social service would be able to insist upon conversion to its faith or adherence to its beliefs and practices before fulfilling its government-funded mandate. Worse, the current version of the bill does not guarantee a secular alternative for those in need.

We in the civil rights community are united in our belief that H.R. 7 is a dangerous piece of legislation that has one goal and one goal only: to extinguish social and legal codes that protect against discrimination with tax dollars.

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