ACLU Urges House to Reject Watts Faith-Based Bill; Says It Represents Broad Assault on Civil Rights Protections

March 20, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Calling it a broad assault on core civil rights protections, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the House of Representatives to reject the faith-based initiative to be introduced tomorrow morning by Rep. J.C. Watts, a Republican from Oklahoma.

“The ban on using federal funds to discriminate dates back to the very earliest days of the civil rights movement,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The Watts legislation includes provisions that sharply attack one of the oldest civil rights principles – that the federal government will not fund discrimination by others.”

The Watts legislation is the first measure introduced in Congress to broadly implement President George W. Bush’s initiative on government-funded religion, including the provisions that would allow the federal government to provide contracts and grants to religious organizations that discriminate against others based on religion. In contrast, the companion legislation introduced today by Sens. Rick Santorum, R-PA, and Joseph Lieberman, D-CT, omitted the provisions on discrimination.

In a letter sent to the House today, the ACLU said that the ban dates from an executive order signed almost 60 years ago by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who ordered all federal agencies to “include in all defense contracts hereafter negotiated by them a provision obligating the contractor not to discriminate against any worker because of race, creed [religion], color, or national origin.”

Roosevelt later expanded the civil rights protections to include all government contracts, the ACLU said, adding that Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson strengthened its protections.

“The common objective was to keep taxpayers’ money from funding discrimination – including religious discrimination,” Anders said. “The Watts bill would turn those protections on their head and make federally funded discrimination the new rule.”

The ACLU letter noted that opposing the Watts bill does not mean that members of Congress would have to reject federal funds for religiously affiliated groups like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and United Jewish Communities that currently receive federal funds and agree not to discriminate based on religion or any other characteristic.

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