In the 109th Congress, Republicans led the House in passing the School Readiness Act to close the readiness gap, address weaknesses in the head Start financial control system, and strengthen early childhood services for disadvantaged children. Additionally, the House-passed bill included provisions ensuring faith-based programs could compete for federal Head Start grants without surrendering their constitutionally protected right to take religion into their account in hiring practices.
Once again in the 110th Congress, Republicans will continue working to strengthen the program, as well as work to give faith-based groups the same hiring and governance protections in the Head Start program that they already have in other federal initiatives. The following facts make it clear why this amendment should be supported by a bipartisan Majority in the House once again.
- Faith-based organizations, such as churches, synagogues, and other faith-based charities, are a central part of the fabric of communities across America. Many of these organizations provide assistance and services to the neediest members of society, offering a helping hand to the least fortunate among us. And many faith-based organizations have made a vital contribution to federal assistance programs.
- The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act explicitly protects the rights of religious organizations to take religion into account in their hiring practices. In fact, the Civil Rights Act made clear that when faith-based organizations hire employees on a religious basis, it is an exercise of the organization’s civil liberties and does not constitute “discrimination” under federal law. Faith-based organizations have a federally protected right to maintain their religious nature and character through those they hire. These organizations willing to serve their communities by participating in federal programs should not be forced to give up that right.
- The landmark federal law on religious discrimination in employment specifically protects the civil liberties of faith-based organizations in Section 702(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when it states: “This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.”
- The freedom to hire those who share religious beliefs was upheld in a unanimous 1987 Supreme Court decision, Corporation of the Presiding Bishop v. Amos, in which the Court observed, “A law is not unconstitutional simply because it allows churches to advance religion, which is their very purpose. For a law to have forbidden “effect” … it must be fair to say that the government itself has advanced religion through its own activities and influence.”
- The art, icons, scripture, or other symbols of religious organizations are integral parts of their religious character and should not be removed simply because they receive funding under the Head Start program. Similar to provisions in other social service laws, outlined in President Bush’s Executive Order on Equal Protection of the Laws for Faith-Based and Community Organizations, and consistent with the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government should consider religious organizations as they do nongovernmental organizations and allow them to retain their religious character and control over the definition, development, practice, and expression of their religious beliefs. This includes not forcing religious organizations to remove art, icons, scripture, or other symbols in order to receive federal funds.
- Current federal law protects the Civil Rights Act hiring and governance protections for faith-based service providers participating in federal programs. Former President Bill Clinton signed four laws that explicitly allow religious organizations to retain their right to staff on a religious basis and the right to provide services without removing or altering religious art, icons or other symbols when they receive federal funds. Those laws are: the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (through the Children’s Health Act of 2000); the Community Services Block Grant Act of 1998; the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 (welfare reform); and the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000.
- Faith-based service providers can be valuable participants in several programs under the jurisdiction of the Education and Labor Committee. Faith-based service providers are particularly suited to participate in programs including the early childhood education Head Start program, the job training programs under the Workforce Investment Act, and the anti-poverty Community Services Block Grant program. Unfortunately, in some federal laws these faith-based organizations are stripped of their civil liberties if they choose to participate in federal service initiatives.