Congress Passes Federal Funding Bill With Troubling Anti-Civil Liberties Provisions

April 14, 2011 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a bill today containing several troubling anti-civil liberties provisions that will determine federal funding for the remainder of the fiscal year through September. After several stop-gap continuing resolutions, congressional leadership and the Obama administration negotiated today’s bill, which includes a blanket ban on Guantánamo detainee transfers, the reinstatement of a ban on Washington, D.C. abortion funding for women enrolled in Medicaid and a reauthorization of a voucher program that gives federal dollars to Washington, D.C. religious schools. The final bill will now head to President Obama’s desk for signature.

The House also passed a misguided resolution today that would have eliminated all federal funding to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a move that would have denied millions of men and women essential reproductive health care services. The Senate, however, voted down the resolution.

“With today’s vote, Congress has denied crucial abortion care to low-income women, allowed federal funding to go to religious schools and chipped away at due process rights,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. “Members of Congress are imposing their personal ideology and religious beliefs on the District of Columbia without regard for the rights, needs and wishes of the local community. Not only that, this bill will further tie our president’s hands when it comes to prosecuting Guantánamo detainees. Using this budget debate as a smokescreen to impinge upon our civil liberties is unwise and unfair.”

The D.C. abortion ban prevents Washington, D.C. from using its own locally raised funds to pay for abortion care for low-income women. The ban was reversed in late 2009 and will be reinstated by today’s bill. The ACLU has long sought an end to the D.C. abortion ban, arguing that Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s autonomy and allow it to use, like other states, its own local, non-federal revenue to provide abortion care to women enrolled in Medicaid.

Today’s bill also included a provision to reauthorize and expand a program providing federal funds for private and religious school vouchers in Washington, D.C. The program allows private and religious schools to receive federal funds while infusing their curricula with specific religious content without being subject to many federal, state and local civil rights statutes that protect students from discrimination. The ACLU has strong objections to the voucher program based on First Amendment principles, including the prohibition against government-funded religious discrimination.

The ban on funding for transfers of all Guantánamo detainees to the United States for any reason, including prosecution in federal courts, is significant because it would apply to all government funds, and not just to the Defense Department funds that already are restricted.

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