The House of Representatives voted to dismantle long-standing civil rights protections on March 2 when it voted to repeal a 23-year-old employment discrimination policy first signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The Job Training Investment Act (H.R. 27) passed the House by a 224–200 margin. If enacted, the measure will exempt religious organizations from rules that currently protect workers from religious discrimination in federally funded job training programs.
Hours before final passage, the House rejected on a 239 to 186 vote an amendment offered by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) to keep current anti-discrimination policies in place.
“Congressman Scott should be commended for his courageous effort to protect civil rights and religious freedom,” said People For the American Way President Ralph Neas. “Regrettably, this bill passed without his amendment. The result is a further erosion of our democratic ideals and legal protections against religious discrimination.”
The protections H.R. 27 seeks to reverse were signed into law by President Ronald Regan in 1982 under the Job Training Partnership Act and were reaffirmed in 1998 during passage of the re-titled Workforce Investment Act.
Proponents of the repeal claimed that it was necessary to protect the religious identity of organizations receiving federal funds. But under current law, faith-based organizations that are the recipients of federal funds are permitted to separate their religious content from the provision of services through the creation of a separate 501(c)(3) organization. This allows the organizations to maintain their religious identity while providing critical community services consistent with constitutional principles and federal anti-discrimination policies.
If the repeal becomes law, however, faith-based groups will literally be able to use government funds to pay the salaries of workers hired on a discriminatory basis.
“For more than 50 years the rules have been clear, if you want federal funds you have to play fair,” said Neas. “Direct federal funding of discrimination is unacceptable.”