At the start of this Fourth of July week in which many will commemorate our Founding Fathers’ generation and its bloody struggle to attain our inalienable rights, People For the American Way joined U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and other civic leaders in a public study and discussion of the Bush administration’s religious-based domestic initiative that could, if enacted, greatly harm the First Amendment.
Earlier this morning in Richmond, Rep. Scott, D-Va., led a group of civil rights leaders on a tour of religious-based social service operations in the city. None of the churches use government funds to operate their social service programs. As Rep. Scott noted on June 14 before the House Subcommittee on Human Resources, many religiously affiliated organizations, including Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services and Jewish Federations use taxpayer money to offer an array of social services. These groups, however, are not allowed to use government funds to advance their religious teachings and while operating government-funded social service programs are subject to the civil rights laws, Scott told the subcommittee.
Today, Scott argued that the Bush plan, which is incorporated in the Watts-Hall bill, H.R. 7, would subvert the constitutional relationship between government and churches by allowing churches and other religious entities to run social service programs without concern for the nation’s civil rights laws and with greater opportunity to advance their religious missions.
Following the tour, the Rev. Steven Baines, senior organizer of religious affairs at People For the American Way, joined Scott, the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Kayle Becker of the Anti-Defamation League in a panel discussion at Richmond’s Imani Center about the Bush plan.
In statements before an audience comprised of Richmond’s religious leaders and activists, Baines urged Congress to stay true to the nation’s Constitution by foregoing the Bush plan to send federal funds directly to religious groups.
“My love of faith and my church – the Baptist Church – calls on me to stand publicly against a proposed bill that, if enacted, would severely undercut this country’s constitutional right to religious liberty,” Baines said. “The strength of our religiously diverse nation has always been a government that does not play favorites in matters of faith but leaves those decisions where they belong – with the individual. That principle should be affirmed and the Watts-Hall plan should be scuttled.”
Late last week the House Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, approved the Watts-Hall bill after turning down an array of Democratic-sponsored amendments to cure the bill of some of its constitutional defects. According to a June 30 Associated Press report, GOP leaders hope to send the bill to the House floor by the end of summer.
Click here to download Rev. Baines’ full statement before the Richmond gathering.