Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, May 08, 2003  

Theocracy Update

Via a comment on Atrios, I discovered some interesting news about the faith-based services issue. From The Liquid List, which looks to be a cracking fine blog:

"The Workplace Investment Act is how America funds job training efforts. President Bush and his pals want to ensure that a religious charity can decide it won't hire, say, Muslims, and that's OK, even if it receives taxpayer money -- some of which may actually come from actual, non-bigots who may be concerned about this -- to do its work." Tarek, May 8, '03

The author cites a couple of articles describing the legislation. From the Washington Post:

"The $4 billion Workforce Investment Act, the country's main job training legislation, is the latest battleground in President Bush's effort to channel more government funds to religious charities without forcing them to change their policies and practices.

Last month, Senate Republicans bowed to Democratic pressure and removed references to faith and religion from legislation originally designed to make it easier for religious charities to receive federal funds. Now, Republicans are pressing on another front. They say religious organizations -- regardless of whether they receive federal funds -- must be free to preserve their essential character by hiring people who share their beliefs."

More troubling is a report from the Boston Globe that identified changes already made by the White House.

"The Bush administration has quietly altered regulations for the nation's leading job training program to allow faith-based organizations to use ''sacred literature,'' such as Bibles, in their federally funded programs. Civil liberties activists say the new rules blur the line between religion and government.

"The change, made by the US Labor Department last month, could allow faith-based groups to use religious books as historical texts or as inspirational stories for job seekers, as long as organizations do not proselytize or conduct prayer sessions....

"In guidelines published on April 4, the Labor Department said the job training grants 'may not be used for instruction in religion or sacred literature, worship, prayer, proselytizing, or other inherently religious practices.'

'''The services provided under these grants must be secular and nonideological,' the guidelines said then.

"But in amended guidelines published in the Federal Register on April 18, the words 'sacred literature' were removed, along with the sentence saying that the services provided must be secular and nonideological."

I suppose it bears mentioning that if the law passes and the guidelines remain, the court may still have a role to play. I’m not convinced that the increasingly conservative courts would find this a First Amendment violation. They might well argue that because the grants are given to all religious groups, they can’t be said to represent an establishment of religion.

In any case, it is further evidence that policy decisions are increasingly being guided by faith. That almost all our elected officials happen to hail from a single religion is troublesome indeed. (If a few more of these grants were going to Muslim organizations, we might see a different attitude.)

posted by Jeff | 9:58 AM |
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