As House Narrowly Adopts Bill to Allow Federally Funded Discrimination, ACLU Calls on Senate to Once Again Protect Civil Rights

May 8, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the House narrowly passed legislation to permit federally funded religious organizations to discriminate against employees based on their beliefs, the ACLU today called on the Senate to preserve current civil rights protections in federal job-training programs. The ACLU said that House legislation includes unnecessary provisions that will undo key federal protections for potential employees.

“”The section of the bill that is of concern is ironically and inappropriately called ‘non-discrimination,'”” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”That section erodes key civil rights protections against government-funded religious discrimination. Supported by both civil rights and religious groups, these protections were put in place to guarantee that publicly funded religious groups comply with the same civil rights laws that apply to everyone else using federal dollars.””

The Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act (HR 1261), which passed on a 220-to-204 vote, allows religious organizations that receive certain federal job-training funds to discriminate against their employees based on religion. By providing this exemption, the House reversed long-standing protections against discrimination based on religion by recipients of federal job-training funds. These civil rights provisions were first included in federal job-training legislation, sponsored by then-Senator Dan Quayle (R-IN), that was adopted 21 years ago, under a Republican Senate and White House.

Such provisions have not been an obstacle for the numerous religious groups that currently participate in federally funded job-training programs. At a news conference yesterday, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chet Edwards (D-TX), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) opposed removing the civil rights provision, pointing to the effective programs that faith-based organizations have implemented with federal dollars while following guidelines.

While the legislation does not have a specific companion bill in the Senate, it seems likely that similar provisions will not be included in the Senate version. 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 several weeks ago.

“”The Senate sent a clear message on this issue – civil rights protections remain vital in federally funded programs,”” Anders said. “”They must uphold these protections when they consider this legislation. 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 sets a dangerous precedent.””

The ACLU’s letter to the House urging opposition to the H.R. 1261 can be found at:
/node/21159

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