It’s another banner day for God’s Own Party (which is how the Republicans must see themselves): The gummint, egged on by the Bush Administration, is a step closer to allowing more federally funded discrimination.
Head Start is a federal program that funds organizations dedicated to preparing poor preschool kids for the academic challenges of school. Presently, the program costs nearly 7 billion dollars and helps about 900,000 needy children. Now, it appears that discrimination against certain teachers and daycare workers may be able to take place in particular institutions — with the backing and financial support of the US government.
Voting 220-196 (the vote fell along party lines, though 10 Democrats aligned with the right wing), the US House approved a bill that would allow faith-based preschools to discriminate in hiring using religion as a basis — while still being eligible to receive federal Head Start dollars. A similar bill is being considered in the US Senate.
From the Associated Press:
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, said the bill ensures that faith-based centers “aren’t forced to choose between relinquishing their identities or being shut out of the program altogether.” …
The Republican plan would, for example, allow a Catholic church that provides Head Start services to employ only Catholic child-care workers, and to reject equally qualified workers of other religions.
“This is about our children, and denying them exemplary services just because the organization happens to be a religious one is just cruel,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.
Democrats and Republicans offered different interpretations of whether the Constitution, federal law and court rulings protected — or prevented — federally aided centers from hiring based on religion.
Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the Education Committee, said the religion provision marred an otherwise strong bill. “That is wrong,” Miller said. “It is a violation of our civil rights laws and it has sunk the chances of making this important bill a truly bipartisan bill.”
Of course, GOPsters can argue that there is recent precedence for allowing federally funded discrimination: The Boy Scouts of America is a private organization, according to the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. The President of the US is the honorary chair of the organization. Many Scout troops benefit from taxpayer-funded resources. And the BSA discriminates on the basis of religion and sexual orientation every day. It just isn’t right.
Private organizations have the right to associate and discriminate as they will. When taxpayer money enters the mix, though, the organization by definition becomes public. And I don’t want my tax dollars going to fund any organization — faith-based or otherwise — that discriminates on the basis of religion. Let’s be clear: What the House approved is nothing short of state-sponsored discrimination, which violates the equal-protection clause of the US Constitution. Additionally, it is a violation of the separation of church and state for any public body to spend its money — the taxpayers’ money — on religious organizations, however noble and helpful they are, however well-intended the act. Just as with government-funded private-school vouchers, giving Head Start dollars to religious preschools and daycare centers is purely and simply wrong.
Consider what the House okayed: If a Catholic school only wants to hire Catholic aides and workers to the detriment of equally quallified non-Catholic applicants, it clearly has to do with the school’s pro-Catholic bias. If a Jewish school insists on passing over qualified Gentile and atheist applicants in favor of hiring only Jewish teachers and assistants, obviously the motivation is to focus on Judaism. If a Wiccan school… hmmm, I wonder if a Wiccan school could get approved for any federal funding. Doubtful, but for argument’s sake, let’s say it did. In any of those cases, government funds should have no involvement in furthering religious biases. That should be obvious. But time and time again, and especially under the auspices of the Bushite regime, the government on many levels seems all too willing to use the people’s money to finance the promotion of religious ideas and biases. This trend is dangerous, and it’s anti-American.
Not that that matters to many of those who want to reclaim America for Christ (while throwing a bone to Jewish and perhaps Muslim interests): The Religious Wrong and the administration of their boy Georgie are hellbent on pushing and promoting their faith-based agenda.
In the wake of the Katrina disaster, Dubya Bush made sure to give a shout-out to the faith-based organizations who did fine work assisting evacuees, but not to secular ones. Alternet reports that the House Republican Study Committee (aka Republican Study Group), according to the Wall Street Journal, talked up “proposals to eliminate regulatory barriers to awarding federal funds to religious groups housing hurricane victims, waiving the estate tax for deaths in the storm-affected states; and making the entire region a ‘flat-tax free-enterprise zone.'” These proposals “are all part of a philosophy of lowering costs for doing business,” in order to speed reconstruction, said RSC member Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) Plans include implementing a voucher system to encourage evacuees to send their usually public-school kids to religious and private schools.
Is there something wrong with attending religious schools? Of course not. But there is, should, and must be a wall between church and state. That wall should and must be inviolate. If the federal government is opposed to discrimination, it should not give its money to discriminators, period. And from a personal standpoint, it is unconscionable to take my tax dollars and give them to an organization that would not deign to hire someone like me.
If you agree, take action:
Contact your senators and let them know that you do not approve of religious organizations receiving public monies and that you do not believe the government should fund discriminatory private groups. Tell them to vote NO on any legislation that would give tax dollars to religious organizations and schools. You can reach your lawmakers via the Congressional Switchboard: 202-224-3121.