Prominent Lawmakers Set to Condemn Flawed Head Start Bill; Taxpayer Funded Religious Discrimination Will Be Decried

July 16, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded news that nine prominent House lawmakers, including the Minority Whip, will hold a press conference on Capitol Hill to condemn controversial legislation to reauthorize the Head Start early childhood education program, which has drawn fire because in addition to lingering funding concerns it would permit participating taxpayer-funded religious groups to discriminate in their hiring.

“This bill would allow religious groups running Head Start programs with tax dollars to choose which teachers to hire and fire based on their denomination or how religious they are,” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Every American should be concerned that with this approach kids would just not be getting the best quality education from Head Start.”

Organized by House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the news conference this afternoon will feature prominent opponents of the religious discrimination provision, including Reps. Robert Scott (D-VA), Barney Frank (D-MA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Robert Andrews (D-NJ). Other lawmakers are expected to criticize the bill’s proposal to block grant Head Start funds to several states, which opponents say will drain needed money from the program in cash-strapped states.

The bill (H.R. 2210) would authorize religious organizations that operate Head Start programs with federal funds to discriminate using religious criteria when hiring and firing — and would inevitably subject currently employed teachers to new religious tests designed to test their piety or adherence to the particular faith in question.

The provision is the latest in a string of under-the-radar legislative and regulatory moves by the administration to push its faith-based initiative – the central goal of which is allowing religious organizations to discriminate while receiving tax dollars. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on a plan to permit the Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund the construction of houses of worship and the Boston Globe broke a story about the Department of Labor trying to change its rules to allow the distribution of sacred texts at federal employment training programs.

The current reauthorization legislation would apply the discriminatory goal of the faith-based initiative to the Head Start initiative, a nation-wide early childhood education program, which was implemented in the 1960s to help low- income children get ready for elementary school.

“The President needs to realize that Americans don’t like religious discrimination and Congress doesn’t want to support it,” Anders said. “This bill should not go forward as written.”

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