ACLU Says Changes to Bush Faith-Based Bill Make Government-Funded Discrimination More Likely

June 28, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly criticized the latest revision of President George W. Bush’s faith-based legislation. The ACLU called the changes in the bill’s language, made at the behest of skeptical Republicans, even more dangerous for civil rights and religious autonomy in America.

“It may be hard to believe, but the Administration has actually made this bill even worse,” said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “If this new version were to become law, faith-based discrimination against people in need would become the norm. The changes can in no way be called a compromise.”

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote today on the Community Solutions Act of 2001 (HR 7), the legislative vehicle for the Bush initiative. In the last several days, the Administration has said it was working hard to rewrite the legislation in hopes of easing the legislation’s passage through a deeply skeptical Congress.

But the ACLU said that even with the new language, the popular opposition to Charitable Choice should only grow. The modifications, for example, remove the requirement that the government guarantee that a secular alternative exists for individuals who do not wish to receive their social services from a sectarian provider. Some supporters of Bush’s plan, in fact, have found it palatable only because of the secular alternative provision.

Many opponents have also expressed concern that the Bush initiative would undermine nearly 60 years of federal civil rights protections against using taxpayer dollars to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring.

The language introduced by the White House this week, however, does little to assuage those concerns. Even though the White House removed one potentially discriminatory clause of the bill, it left intact other sections that give religious organizations the right to discriminate in employment by preferring members of their own religion and added new language that would, in effect, negate key civil rights protections that already exist in the affected programs.

In recent months, the Bush initiative for government-funded religion has attracted the ire of a large number of main-line churches (including Bush’s own), the civil rights community, and from many conservatives and civil libertarians who question the measure’s potential impact on religious organizations’ autonomy from government interference.

The new measure will do little to allay their concerns. “The changes,” Schroeder continued, “were not negotiated with Committee Democrats, mainline churches or civil rights groups. The legislation remains deeply flawed. We urge the House to carefully examine the new provisions and continue to reject the Bush initiative as un-American.”

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