ACLU Says Congress Must Oppose Legislation Allowing Government-Funded Discrimination

February 16, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON -A key House Committee approved a jobs training bill today that would allow, if it passes, federally funded religious organizations to discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs. The same committee also rejected a modest amendment that would have corrected the constitutional concerns.

“This bill would erode key civil rights protections against government-funded religious discrimination,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU senior lobbyist. “These protections, supported by both civil rights and religious groups, were put in place years ago to ensure that publicly funded religious groups comply with the same civil rights laws that apply to everyone else using federal dollars.”

The bill, the Job Training Improvement Act (H.R. 27), as reported out of the House committee on Education and the Workforce, would allow religious organizations that receive federal funds from the Workforce Investment Act’s job-training programs to discriminate against their employees based upon religion. It would repeal current law, which states that all recipients of federal money for job-training programs must not discriminate on the basis of religion.

The committee also rejected an amendment, offered by Representatives Robert Scott, Chris Van Hollen and Lynn Woolsey, that would have simply restored the civil rights provision found in current law. Ironically, this provision was first included in federal job-training legislation that was adopted 21 years ago, under a Republican Senate and White House. This non-controversial civil rights provision has not been an obstacle for religious groups to participate in federally funded job training programs. In fact, many religious organizations currently operate job-training programs and are in full compliance with federal civil rights laws.

The ACLU pointed to a lawsuit that will be filed early tomorrow morning by Americans United for Separation of Church and the ACLU of Pennsylvania as an example of the need for strong civil rights protections. The complaint in Moeller v. Bradford County states that Bradford County and a self-proclaimed “prison ministry” are violating the Constitution by using government funding to advocate religion. The county and the ministry operate a vocational training program for inmates in which a significant proportion of inmates’ time is spent on compulsory religious discussions, religious lectures and prayer, rather than on learning job skills. The complaint also alleges that program administrators discriminate in hiring workers based on their religious beliefs and affiliation.

“This bill is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Schroeder added. “Many religious groups already receive federal job training dollars under the current standards, and do so in a fair and constitutional manner. Congress must not reverse our long-held belief that religious groups that receive federal funds must abide by federal non-discrimination laws.”

The ACLU’s letter on the Job Training Improvement Act (H.R. 27) can be found at:
/node/21169

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