ACLU Says Latest Faith-Based Bill Supports White House Push For Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination

January 30, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Responding to this afternoon’s reintroduction of legislation designed to further the President’s faith-based initiative, the American Civil Liberties Union today said the new bill is just as troubling as its predecessors and would result in taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.

“”This new faith-based bill would both further legitimize the President’s misguided initiative and promote taxpayer-funded religious discrimination,”” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”The legislation is a far cry from a compassionate approach – in reality, it will work to institutionalize religious bias in employment.””

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) held a news conference this afternoon announcing the reintroduction of their legislation – called the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act – which served in the last Congress as the Senate version of the President’s so-called faith-based initiative, a program roundly criticized as “”government-funded religion.””

The ACLU has long opposed government-funded religion as a skewing of long-standing rules protecting the beneficiaries and employees of taxpayer-funded social services from discrimination in hiring and the provision of services. By omitting explicit protections against religious, racial or other forms of discrimination, the CARE Act would reinforce the President’s stated willingness to allow pervasively religious organizations to provide services with public money while disregarding basic civil rights laws.

The President urged Congress to pass his faith-based initiative at his State of the Union address this week and included a call to funnel $600 million of taxpayer funding to a new voucher program, which would allow religious organizations to provide drug and alcohol treatment without complying with anti-discrimination laws and quality of care standards.

The faith-based controversy was also recently fueled by a front-page New York Times story reporting on an obscure proposed rule change for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The new policy would allow HUD grants to pay for the bricks-and-mortar construction of religious buildings – a radical policy shift that flies in the face of decades of legal thinking about the First Amendment.

Last fall, the President – after Congress refused to pass his faith-based initiative – signed an executive order unilaterally establishing the program through Presidential fiat. The Lieberman-Santorum legislation would entrench the President’s order in statute, making it harder for a subsequent administration or Congress to challenge.

“”This legislation and the President’s plan even contradict the wishes of charitable organizations and social service providers,”” Anders said. “”The overwhelming consensus among these communities is that a lack of resources, not the inability to discriminate, is hindering effective public service.””

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