From the Associated Baptist Press
House passes bill allowing discrimination as Bush reaffirms
By Robert Marus
March 4, 2005
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- The House of Representatives has passed another
bill giving religious charities the right to discriminate in hiring,
even when they receive federal funds.
On a largely party-line vote of 224 to 200, the chamber passed the Job
Training Improvement Act March 2. The legislation is a reauthorization
and extension of a federal job-training program that has been around
since 1982. It funds local organizations that help provide unemployed
people with marketable job skills.
The program's original authorizing legislation barred organizations
receiving grants under it from discriminating on the basis of
religion, race, gender and other categories. The new bill deletes
those protections only for religious providers, and only on the basis
The 1964 Civil
Rights Act already allows churches and synagogues to discriminate in
hiring for most positions on the basis of religious principles.
However, the courts have not definitively settled the issue of whether
religious groups retain that right when hiring for a position wholly
or partly funded by tax dollars.
"The bill turns back the clock on decades of civil rights protections
in our job training programs. This is simply wrong," said Rep. Dale
Kildee (D-Mich.), debating the measure on the House floor.
But the bill's supporters said churches and other religious
job-training agencies would be unable to maintain fidelity to their
mission if not given the right to hire workers on a religious basis --
even when using tax dollars.
"Our nation's faith-based institutions have a proven track record in
meeting the training and counseling needs of our citizens," said Rep.
John Boehner (R-Ohio). "Why would we want to deny them the opportunity
to help in federal job-training efforts?"
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) offered an amendment that would have restored
the bill's original 1982 language barring grant recipients from
discriminating on the basis of religion. It failed on a 239-186 vote.
Fourteen of his fellow Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against
Scott's amendment, while only three Republicans supported it.
The vote came just a day after President Bush spoke strongly of such
provisions as essential to his plan to fund more social services
through churches and other religious organizations.
"I want this issue resolved," Mr. Bush said, in a speech to about 250
religious leaders invited to a White House conference on the
faith-based plan. "Congress needs to send me the same language
protecting religious hiring [rights] that President Clinton signed on
four other occasions. And they need to do it this year. And if we
can't get it done this year, I'll consider measures that can be taken
through executive action."
Bush was referring to several other federal social-service programs
containing similar religious-hiring provisions that Congress passed
and Clinton signed into law between 1996 and 2000. However, Clinton's
administration made it their policy not to give grants directly to
churches and other pervasively religious providers, thus rendering the
hiring provisions moot.
Bush, however, has aggressively pushed a comprehensive plan to fund
social services through houses of worship. Although the effort as a
whole failed in Congress, Bush has slowly implemented parts of the
plan via executive orders and other administrative actions.
Bush's allies in the House have also attempted piecemeal
implementation of the plan in various bills, such as the Job Training
Improvement Act, authorizing individual grant programs. The House
passed a similar version of the bill in 2003, but could not agree with
the Senate on it.
The bill is H.R. 27. It now goes to the Senate, where it will likely
face stiff opposition.