ACLU Says Watts Charitable Choice Bill Would Give Government-Funded Religious Organizations Carte Blanche to Discriminate

April 26, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today told a House subcommittee that a bill designed to implement President Bush’s faith-based initiative would give federally funded religious organizations carte blanche to discriminate based on religion.

“The Bush plan is a prescription for discrimination,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The President’s initiative would cut the legs out from under what are essential civil rights protections that date back six decades.

“When federal money is in the mix,” Anders added, “the person with the right qualifications, not the right religion, should get the job.”

In testimony submitted today to the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources of the House Committee on Government Reform, the ACLU said that the Community Solutions Act (H.R. 7) would waive a religious organization’s obligation to abide by non-discrimination rules that apply to federal contractors and grantees. The bill, which was introduced by Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK), would also allow religious organizations to prefer members of their own religion in hiring and in the provision of services.

Under the Watts’ bill, the ACLU predicted, taxpayer-funded discrimination would become the rule in hiring by religious organizations. Potential hires would be subject to invasive questions about such things as religious beliefs, the race of one’s spouse, sexual orientation, whether or not their marriage was annulled, or whether a woman is pregnant.

The ACLU’s testimony pointed to an often overlooked aspect of the Watts’ bill: that it would open the door to federally funded organizations claiming a religious right to discriminate based upon a characteristic other than religion such as race or gender. It cites the case of Bob Jones University, which courts ruled in 1983 could be denied tax exempt status because of blatant racial discrimination on campus. Under the new law, the testimony cautioned, Bob Jones University would be eligible for federal funding even though it openly opposed racial intermarriage.

“This is not an obscure legal debate; it is a question of real practical importance,” Anders said. “Under the Watts’ bill, one’s qualifications as a mental health counselor or addiction therapist would be trumped by one’s subscription to a certain set of beliefs.”

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