As House Panel Convenes Hearing on Bush Faith-Based Initiative, ACLU Urges Congress to Continue to Reject Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination

March 23, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As a House panel convened a hearing on President Bush’s unpopular plan to permit tax dollars to fund discrimination by religious social service organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged lawmakers to stand firm in rejecting the Administration’s faith-based initiative.

“It is no surprise that the president’s faith-based initiative cannot find any traction in Congress – few lawmakers want to spend tax dollars to allow religious organizations to discriminate,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress recognizes that the President’s initiative is neither conservative, nor compassionate.”

The faith-based initiative was the subject of a general oversight hearing today in the House Government Reform Committee’s subcommittee on crime, chaired by Representative Mark Souder (R-IN).

The president’s proposal would allow religious organizations who receive federal grants to administer social service programs to refuse to hire, or fire, employees if they are not of the same religion, or for religious reasons like prejudice against a current or potential employee’s sexual orientation. Currently, religious groups can easily receive federally funded grants for social services so long as they abide by the same rules, including civil rights laws, that apply to everybody else.

To date, the president’s plan has had little success on Capitol Hill, which has forced the Bush administration to push its agenda through federal regulation. The last Congressional development in the faith-based controversy involved a community service grant program, which would have permitted tax-funded religious discrimination in the provision of services designed to help low-income Americans escape from poverty.

Although an amendment to fix the bill failed in the House, no measure authorizing tax-funded religious discrimination has passed in the Senate.

Concern over the block grant vote was heightened, the ACLU noted, by religious social service providers’ increasing aggressiveness in applying religious tests to employees, often at the expense of secular qualifications. In February, shortly before the block grant vote, The New York Times reported that the Salvation Army in New York, a recipient of $70 million in state and city funds for its social service programs, is now asking current and potential employees what church they belong to.

“Americans do not want to see their tax dollars used to hire or fire people based on where and how often they worship,” Anders said. “In everything from financial planning to mental health services, serious problems will occur if we allow tax-funded social services to base their hiring practices on religious litmus tests.”

The ACLU’s written comments, submitted for today’s hearing, can be found at:
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