Thursday, March 03, 2005

COMING TO A CHURCH NEAR YOU

By William Fisher

When Al Qaida’s Human Resources department brings new folks on board, we can assume 99.9% of them will be radical Islamists. Fine, we expect it.

When the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is out recruiting, Henry Kissinger or Joe Lieberman or Barbra Streisand are not his most promising targets. He’s looking for W.A.S.P.s. No surprise here.

And when Bob Jones University goes scouting for new blood, they’re not looking for Denzel Washington or Whoopi Goldberg. The Supreme Court ruled twenty years ago that the federal government could deny a religiously-run university tax benefits because the university imposed a racially discriminatory anti-miscegenation policy.

Frankly, I don’t really care who gets hired by these discredited and disgraceful outfits. At least, not until I’m asked to help pay their salaries.

And that’s what the U.S. House of Representatives is asking me – and you --to do.

Yesterday, 224 of our courageous representatives passed the first rollback of religious liberty since President Reagan signed the Job Training Partnership Act into law back in 1982.

In that year, Congress passed the original Job Training Partnership Act. It was sponsored by then Republican Senator (later vice-president) Dan Quayle, reported out of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee by then-chairman Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, and signed into law by Republican President Reagan.

Yesterday a different bunch of Republicans – joined by a lone Southern Democrat – decided in their infinite wisdom to scrap the civil rights protections contained in the Reagan version of the Act.

What they okayed was use of tax dollars to fund religious discrimination in hiring for government-funded jobs. So the House made it OK to demand that taxpayers help finance hiring policies that say Protestants-only or Muslims-only, or Catholics-only, or Jews-only, or, for that matter, whites or blacks or Asians-only.

Despite the aggressive opposition of a huge coalition of religious, civil rights, labor, educational, and other advocacy groups, President Bush pushed hard for passage as part of his Faith Based Initiative.

Reminds me of my childhood when signs at companies and newspaper want-ads blatently announced “Jews and Negroes need not apply”.

Not to misunderstand, most of the religious groups who favored this sea-change do outstanding work. In fact, almost all of them have been doing it for years without tax dollars. Just like the religious and other groups who opposed it.

I’m with President Bush in thinking they could do even more. But whatever happened to the volunteer donors whose generosity has traditionally helped fund these organizations? Do all these champions of ‘smaller government’ jump ship as soon as federal grants are on offer?

Although religious employers enjoy an exemption allowing them to apply religious tests when hiring for positions funded with their own money (italics mine), the Constitution requires that direct receipt and administration of federal funds removes that exemption.

More than 60 years ago, one of the first successes of the modern civil rights movement was a decision by President Franklin Roosevelt to bar federal contractors from discriminating based on race, religion, or national origin. And, as of today, that’s still the law of the land.

As for tomorrow, I’m not so sure. The bill passed by the House now goes to the Senate. Let us hope that the Constitutional separation of church and state is not dead there too.

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