ACLU Urges Congress to Oppose Federally Funded Discrimination; Calls Legislation an Unnecessary and Dangerous Measure

May 7, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today joined with members of Congress and religious leaders to voice opposition to H.R. 1261, the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act. The legislation would allow federally funded religious organizations to discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs.

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

The bill, as reported out of committee, 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 job-training program funds must not discriminate on the basis of religion.

Ironically, the current civil rights 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.

At a news conference today, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chet Edwards (D-TX), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) were joined by Rabbi David Sapperstein of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and Rev. Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs in speaking out against the controversial changes to the administration of federal funds to religious job-training programs. Opposition to the Workforce Reinvestment Act parallels concerns raised in the Senate to similar provisions in the President’s faith-based initiative, provisions that were ultimately eliminated from the Senate’s bill.

“”The Senate sent a clear message on this issue – civil rights protections remain vital in federally funded programs,”” Anders said. “”We must not reverse our long-held belief that religious groups that receive federal funds must abide by federal non-discrimination laws.””

“”This bill is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,”” Anders added. “”Many religious groups already receive federal job training dollars under the current standards, and do so in a fair and constitutional manner. H.R. 1261 would set a dangerous precedent.””

The ACLU’s letter to the House urging opposition to the H.R. 1261 can be found at:

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