On the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act.
Unfortunately, those forces have once again brought legislation before Congress intended to break down the barrier between personal faith and public policy. The bill in question is House Resolution 27, the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act, which has caused a great deal of controversy, despite its innocuous name. The legislation was passed by the House in early March and now awaits consideration by the Senate. The act sets rules governing job-training programs that receive federal funding, many of which are run by faith-based organizations.
Many of my colleagues and I opposed the legislation because it would repeal longstanding civil rights protections designed to protect individuals in publicly funded programs from employment discrimination on the basis of religion. This would turn back the clock on more than half a century of progress, since Franklin Roosevelt's famous executive order prohibiting discrimination in defense contracts during World War II.
Since its inception in 1982 this job-training program has prohibited recipients--even religiously affiliated charities--from discriminating in employment on the basis of religion. This legislation wasn't some secular, liberal plot; President Ronald Reagan signed it.
Under section 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, religious institutions have long been exempt from the prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of religion. This was intended to preserve the autonomy of religious institutions. The purpose of the exception was to ensure that the government could not, for example, demand that a Catholic church hire a non-Catholic as a priest.
What was never contemplated was that pervasively sectarian institutions, such as houses of worship, would one day receive federal funding. The exemption made sense because religion was private and separate from government. Even now, despite attacks on the establishment clause by the Supreme Court, pervasively sectarian institutions may not receive direct federal funding.
Religiously affiliated charities have long participated in the delivery of federally funded job-training programs. Every member of Congress knows this. Every member of Congress has assisted these programs in obtaining funds to do their good work. We continue to support their efforts. So long as religious charities agree not to use the money in a manner that discriminates based on religion, which they have demonstrated they are very capable of doing, they should continue to receive federal funding.
Provisions in the new bill would undo this balance and promote discrimination based on religion. If passed by the Senate and signed by George W. Bush, the bill would allow religious organizations to apply for and receive federal money directly and without having to agree to use that money in a manner that wouldn't result in discrimination based on religion. In other words, religious organizations would be able to use federal money, raised from taxes paid by Americans of all creeds and faiths, but allow only members of certain religious backgrounds to have access to that money.
Does this look like a policy that enables discrimination? Its backers have freely admitted as much. They have endeavored to portray themselves as the true defenders of equal rights, saying that their legislation protects religious institutions from being discriminated against by the federal government.
But the truth is the truth and, as currently written and passed, H.R. 27 would allow federally funded social service programs to tack up signs in their window saying "No Catholics need apply" or "Muslims Not Served." I strongly believe that religious organizations play a vital role in delivering social services in this country, including job training. But the opponents of this bill feel just as strongly that there is no room for prejudice and exclusion in programs run or funded by the U.S. government.
These programs can and have succeeded without Congress forcing the abandonment of our nation's commitment to end religious discrimination. It's wrong, and I'm committed to fighting this harmful agenda for as long as it takes to ensure sense and constitutional fealty in our government.
Jerrold L. Nadler is serving his seventh term in Congress representing the people of New York and is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Constitution Subcommittee.
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|Title Annotation:||CHURCH & STATE|
|Author:||Nadler, Jerrold L.|
|Date:||May 1, 2005|
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