All Rights reserved
Religious groups participating in federally funded job-training programs could refuse to hire gay employees based on their religious beliefs under a jobs bill that narrowly passed the House Wednesday. The largely partisan 224-200 vote to extend and rewrite the 1998 Workforce Investment Act came a day after President Bush, in a speech to religious leaders, chided Congress for not acting on his faith-based initiatives and criticized a government culture he said was "unfriendly" to religious groups. The White House, in a statement, expressed support for the job-training bill and for the provision on religious groups, saying that "receipt of federal funds should not be conditioned on a faith-based organization's giving up a part of its religious identity and mission." Under current law, religious organizations that participate in federal job-training programs cannot discriminate in hiring or firing for taxpayer-funded jobs. The House bill would remove that prohibition, meaning that a church or synagogue could use a person's religious beliefs in determining employment for a federally funded job. Historically, religious discrimination has been used as a cloak for discrimination based on sexual orientation, said Eric Stern, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats. "Republicans are attempting to force taxpayers to pay for their own discrimination," he said. "No American should have to pass a religious test in order to receive a federally funded job. The valuable work of our religious institutions should not be corrupted by discriminatory policies advanced by Republicans." The Workforce Investment Act would repeal workplace protections in job training programs signed into law by President Reagan and written by then-senator Dan Quayle, Stern noted. Specifically, it would allow religious organizations that receive federal funding to operate job-training programs to discriminate in employment. On Tuesday the antigay religious organization Family Research Council issued an action alert that disclosed that the true aim of the bill is to shield "organizations that oppose homosexuality" from nondiscrimination provisions. "Organizations that oppose homosexuality and abortion often need extra protection when receiving federal aid or using federal facilities," wrote Tony Perkins, FRC president in reference to the Workforce Investment Act. Democratic representative Bobby Scott of Virginia offered an amendment to the bill that would have removed the discriminatory language contained within the Workforce Investment Act. But the Scott amendment was voted down 239-186 along largely partisan lines. "Congressional Republicans who claim to support our community have consistently voted against our equality when pressured by the Republican leadership," said Stern. "We call upon our national organizations to hold these 'pro-gay' Republicans accountable for their repeated votes against our families." The legislation still must be considered by the Senate. The House and Senate passed similar job-training measures in 2003 but were unable to reconcile their differences.