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Faith-Based Bill Passes the House

The House on July 19 voted, 233-198, to allow religious organizations to compete equally with other organizations for federal funds to provide social services. Largely based on the President’s faith-based initiative, H.R. 7 was heatedly debated by Members on both sides of the aisle. In the end, 15 Democrats and one Independent joined 217 Republicans in supporting the bill. Four Republicans voted against the bill.

Under current law, religious organizations may receive federal funds for social service programs; however, they are not allowed to proselytize in those programs. H.R. 7 would remove that restriction and allow religious organizations to proselytize in their federally funded social service programs.

Under H.R. 7, religious organizations would be exempt from laws prohibiting religious discrimination in hiring practices. However, religious groups would not be allowed to discriminate against program participants or beneficiaries based on religion. Additionally, religious organizations would have to adhere to federal civil rights laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, visual impairment, disability, and age.

The bill delineates nine social service programs for which religious organizations may qualify for federal funding-juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice programs, crime victims assistance programs, federal housing programs, job training programs, senior citizens programs, domestic violence prevention programs, hunger relief programs, welfare-to-work transportation programs, programs that assist individuals in obtaining their high school equivalency, and after-school programs.

H.R. 7 also would provide $13.3 billion in tax incentives for individuals and corporations making charitable contributions.

After lengthy debate, the House defeated, 168-261, a Democratic substitute that would have prohibited religious groups from discriminating in hiring practices based on religion. Offered by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the substitute also would have prohibited the bill from preempting state or local civil rights laws.

The House also rejected, 195-234, a motion to recommit the bill, offered by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).

Supporters of the bill argued that H.R. 7 would aid the federal government in providing services to needy individuals. “The purpose of this bill is to help people….This bill will provide new hope and new opportunities to thousands of Americans. It will help the homeless, the hungry, and the downtrodden, and it will help those in need,” stated Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).

Opponents countered that the measure would allow taxpayer-funded discrimination. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) argued, “For the first time, Federal dollars, public funds, will be used to discriminate; or put another way, Americans can be barred from taxpayer-funded employment on the basis of their religion or other factors.”

Citing an example of potential discrimination, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) said, “A young lady comes walking along, and suppose her purse falls and something pops out of the purse. Lo and behold, it is birth control pills. Under this piece of legislation, if that particular religion does not accept forms of prevention, that woman could be fired on the spot because they do not accept it. You tell me where it is she is protected in this legislation?”

On the other hand, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) argued, “If we make religious liberty subject to state and local laws, contractual provisions that prohibit a religious organization from maintaining its internal autonomy, which is not true currently, could be used to require religious health services to distribute condoms. If we repeal the religious liberty amendment and make it subservient to State and local laws, it is a slippery slope for other issues such as Medicaid, where it could require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. This has huge ramifications in our society, if you make religious liberty subject to State and local laws.”

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