From the Associated Baptist Press:
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- For the first time under Democrats' new majority in Congress, a House panel refused March 14 to add language to a bill that would have allowed religious organizations receiving federal funds to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.
On a 24-13 vote, the House Labor and Education Committee rejected a Republican attempt to amend a bill reauthorizing the federal Head Start program. The amendment would have changed long-standing rules in the popular early-childhood education program by explicitly allowing churches and other groups receiving funds to take religion into account when hiring teachers and other employees.
Advocates of such rules argue that it violates the religious freedom of such social-service providers by expecting them to follow the same rules as secular groups when they are receiving government funds. But many civil-rights groups and church-state separationists contend that it is equally wrong to allow federal dollars to fund job discrimination.
Republican leaders repeatedly attempted to alter federal social-service programs by adding similar language to a host of bills in the past decade. While they often succeeded in the House, the Senate often stymied their efforts.
Such provisions were an integral part of President Bush's faith-based initiative -- an attempt to loosen the rules for churches and other religious charities seeking government funds for providing services to the public. While the initiative was largely a failure in Congress, Bush has implemented many of the changes necessary to implement it through executive orders.
The House's new Democratic leaders are generally opposed to such explicit employment-discrimination provisions, although some are supportive of the concept of making it easier for faith-based groups to receive tax dollars.
The National Head Start Association -- representing thousands of Head Start programs nationwide -- was also among the groups that opposed the amendment.
The original Head Start bill, without amendment, then passed the committee 42-1. It is expected to pass the full House as well.