- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Congress will debate a bill tomorrow that would permit religious groups that accept federal job-training funds to hire only workers who share their faith.Liberal interest groups and some Democrats are outraged over the proposed change in the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, calling the measure a repeal of civil-rights protections.”The clear intent of [this] change in the civil-rights provision in the [bill] is to encourage certain providers receiving federal funds to discriminate based on religion,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a letter to Congress urging defeat of the bill. “Although religious employers have the right to apply religious tests to employees, the Constitution requires that direct receipt and administration of federal funds removes that exemption.”The bill covers federally funded “one-stop career centers” that provide job training, basic education, and counseling for the unemployed.Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said faith-based groups need the protection of this bill to “sustain their religious missions” and still provide these job-training services to their communities.”Faith-based charities work daily miracles because they have idealistic volunteers committed to their organizations’ moral principles,” Mr. Boehner said. “The current protections of the Civil Rights Act ensure that faith-based organizations can continue to hire individuals who share their tenets and practices. Any federal legislation governing federal training and social services funds should continue to protect these rights.”K. Hollyn Hollman of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs disagrees. Mrs. Hollman said when the job-training law was first proposed in the early 1980s — by Republican Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana and Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts — and signed by President Reagan, it was not intended to allow religious groups to discriminate against those who don’t share their theology.”This bill takes out a nondiscrimination provision that has been in place for 20 years,” Mrs. Hollman said. “It’s ironic that you would run a program that is supposed to train people to get jobs, yet you won’t let people have a job with you if they don’t share your religion.”Mrs. Hollman said there is broad support for allowing private groups to use their own money to help their communities, but “the calculus changes” when public money is tapped.”Polls show that three out of four people don’t want the government funding for jobs that have a religious requirement for it,” she said.Democrats on the Education and Workforce Committee unanimously opposed the legislation on these and other grounds, and plan to offer amendments to take out the Boehner-backed provision. The House Rules Committee is expected to decide today whether those amendments will be accepted on the floor.”If they allow us to offer it, that’d be great,” said Danny Weiss, spokesman for the committee’s Democrats. “If they don’t, it would be in keeping with the Republican treatment of many Democratic amendments.”A similar provision, attached to a different bill, died in the last Congress.”The experience of the House under this Republican leadership is to try very hard to press this forward even though there is deep opposition to it, and it’s a deep violation of people’s rights,” Mr. Weiss said.

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