The U.S. House of Representatives has voted narrowly to allow religious discrimination in hiring for Head Start centers run by religious groups.
By a 220-196 tally that fell largely along partisan lines, the House on Sept. 22 adopted an amendment offered by Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Charles Boustany (R-La.) to exempt religious organizations from the ban on employment bias on grounds of religion.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, working in a coalition of civil liberties, education and other public interest groups, had urged representatives to defeat the amendment of the Head Start re-authorization bill allowing for the employment discrimination provision.
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn called the House vote “shameful,” saying that government-funded programs “ought to hire the best qualified applicant.”
Lynn added, however, that he is confident the discriminatory provision will not become law. He noted that the House vote was close and that “momentum is clearly building against taxpayer-funded job bias.”
A Head Start reauthorization bill that does not allow employment discrimination is pending in the Senate.
Head Start is a popular program created in the 1960s to help poor students and their families attain education and health services. While Head Start centers are sometimes located at churches, the publicly funded program is secular and is not supposed to include sectarian content.
Under the House amendment to the Head Start bill, Lynn said that “Americans could be denied Head Start jobs solely on the basis of religious belief. Why on earth would we encourage discrimination in a tax-funded program? It’s simply unacceptable.”