ACLU Says Bush Initiative Represents Faith-Based Prescription for Discrimination

January 29, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that President George Bush’s new initiative to give tax dollars to religious organizations would lead to government-funded discrimination in employment and services and a dangerous loosening of licensing and standards for providers of social services.

“This new Bush initiative represents a faith-based prescription for discrimination,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “What the President is proposing today will open the Bob Jones Universities of the world to receiving federal funds without any civil rights safeguards.”

The ACLU and others, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, say that the Bush faith-based initiative would both violate the separation of church and state and allow taxpayer funds to be used in several discriminatory ways. The initiative would allow for taxpayer-funded discrimination in:

**Employment. Because religious organizations are exempt from many civil rights laws, they are allowed to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs and teachings about race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and pregnancy status. Under the Bush initiative, for example, a Catholic church receiving public funds for literacy programs could fire a teacher for getting pregnant outside of marriage or an Orthodox Jewish synagogue that operated a food bank could refuse to hire non-Jews or women.

**Provision of Services. Under the Bush initiative, there are no restrictions on how religious organizations incorporate their beliefs in the delivery of social services. These groups would be allowed to decide who gets priority for services and what services are actually provided. The ACLU believes that the lack of protections could lead to discrimination against those who most need help. A Baptist church that is running a local housing program could, for example, give preference to low-income people in their own congregation.

The ACLU also said that the Bush initiative would not require that religious organizations hire trained and licensed counselors and therapists to deliver social services. In Texas, where then-Governor Bush implemented many elements of his new federal program, a church-based drug rehabilitation program argued that drug addiction was a sin, not a disease, and offered prayer and Bible reading as “treatment.”

“Priests, ministers and rabbis are the best people to offer spiritual guidance that can be helpful to people in need,” Murphy said. “But many individuals faced with drug addiction, mental illness and other problems need more than spiritual advice. They need people who are trained and licensed to address their specific physical and psychological needs.”

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