ACLU Calls on Congress To Oppose Government-Funded Discrimination, House Defeats Key Civil Rights Protections

March 2, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following the House of Representatives’ failure to adopt a key civil rights amendment to a jobs training bill, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress to reject the underlying measure. The amendment would have prevented federally funded religious organizations from using religious litmus tests in employment decisions.

“”In its current form, the Jobs Training bill would erode key civil rights protections against government-funded religious discrimination,”” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU senior lobbyist. “”Members failed to restore key civil rights protections. The House has shown that it is more concerned about advancing a political agenda than ensuring that qualified people are not dismissed from publicly funded programs for their religious beliefs.””

The bill, the Job Training Improvement Act (H.R. 27) would allow religious organizations that receive federal funds from the Workforce Investment Act’s job-training programs to discriminate against their employees based upon religion. It would repeal current law, which states that all recipients of federal money for job-training programs must not discriminate on the basis of religion or religious beliefs.

Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chet Edwards (D-TX), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Barney Frank (D-NY) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY) offered an amendment that would have simply restored the civil rights provision found in current law. That amendment failed on a vote of 186 to 239.

Ironically, this provision was first included in federal job-training legislation that was adopted more than 23 years ago, under a Republican Senate and White House. This non-controversial civil rights provision has not been an obstacle for religious groups to participate in federally funded job training programs. In fact, many religious organizations currently operate job-training programs and are in full compliance with federal civil rights laws.

The ACLU pointed to a lawsuit that filed recently by Americans United for Separation of Church and the ACLU of Pennsylvania as an example of the need for strong civil rights protections. The said that Bradford County and a self-proclaimed “”prison ministry”” are violating the Constitution by using government funding to advocate religion. The county and the ministry operate a vocational training program for inmates in which a significant proportion of inmates’ time is spent on compulsory religious discussions, religious lectures and prayer, rather than on learning job skills. The complaint also alleges that program administrators discriminate in hiring workers based on their religious beliefs and affiliation.

“”The Scott amendment would have protected Americans against government-funded religious discrimination,”” Schroeder added. “”These protections, supported by both civil rights and religious groups, were put in place years ago to ensure that publicly funded religious groups comply with the same civil rights laws that apply to everyone else using federal dollars.””

The ACLU’s letter on the Job Training Improvement Act (H.R. 27) can be found at:

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