In Close Vote House Passes Bush Administration’s Government-Religion Plan

The Bush administration’s frequently touted plan to funnel tax dollars to churches and other religious entities had a rough going today in the House of Representatives. After many hours of often-rancorous debate, the embattled bill, H.R. 7, was sent to the Senate for consideration.

Late today the House voted 233-198 in favor of H.R. 7, a bill backed by the Bush administration that would permit religious charities to run social services with federal funds without adhering to state and local anti-discrimination laws.

On July 19, about a dozen moderate Republicans joined with their Democratic colleagues in trying to cure H.R. 7, sponsored by Reps. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., and Tony Hall, D-Ohio, of one its major drawbacks – a provision allowing federally funded religious-run social service providers to ignore state and local anti-discrimination laws. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., one of the moderates urging changes to H.R. 7 told his colleagues that it was "crucial that we ensure that faith-based services are accessible to all Americans."

Despite the moderates’ efforts, H.R. 7 narrowly made it out of the House still with its provision to allow religious-based discrimination in the operation of social services.

"There’s a television show that asks contestants to choose ‘the weakest link,’" said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way. "But that would be a tough choice if you considered this bill. The bill allows recipients of public funds to discriminate, it seriously blurs the constitutional line between church and state, and it does little to enhance tax incentives for charitable giving. Each of those problems is a very weak link."

Neas urged the Senate to keep the bill from reaching President Bush’s desk.

"People For the American Way has steadfastly opposed government funding of religion," Neas said. "This bill will place the government in the constitutionally suspect position of picking and choosing among religions, which undoubtedly will spur divisiveness and confrontation. The bill, as passed by the House, also advances religion by giving religious groups a free pass to ignore civil rights laws. This bill remains unfair, unwise and unconstitutional and it is now up to the Senate to make sure it does not become law."

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