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Improving the Community Services Block Grant Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC

February 04, 2004)


Mr. BOEHNER. If the gentleman will yield further, the Congress in 1964, and as amended in 1965, passed landmark civil rights legislation in America, and it was the Congress in the mid-sixties who saw fit to provide religious organizations with one small exemption, and that in the case of employment, to religious organizations. And if you read the comments of the debate and the record of that debate, it was because those civil rights laws guarantee Americans full access to jobs, to all types of programs in our country.

But they did understand that religious organizations, by their very nature, ought to have an exemption in employment so religious organizations can, if they want, not all do, hire people of their faith.

The only issue here is whether those organizations, faith-based organizations, that do in fact provide community services with Federal funds, whether they should continue to have that exemption.


Mr. BOEHNER. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield further, let me pose the opposite question to you. Why should a faith-based organization that is providing tremendous community services give up the protections granted to them under the 1964 Civil Rights Act just because they accept Federal dollars in their mission to help low-income people?


Mr. BOEHNER. If the gentleman would yield further, if that organization in their beliefs want to hire people of their faith, because in many cases the people they may hire will not only participate in a job training program, they may also
teach Sunday school, they may also do other things for that religious organization.
But I would bring the gentleman's attention back to the bill we have before us, and the bill before us, that is the
Community Services Block Grant reauthorization bill, last passed and reauthorized by the Congress in 1998 and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton, that act in 1998 and the President's signature in 1998 contains the identical language that this bill contains.

Now, the Congress passed this overwhelmingly in 1998, and the President signed it into law. Now here we are 6 years later and we are saying, oh my goodness, there is a problem. If I could just finish, if over the last 6 years it would have been clear that there was a problem with faith-based organizations maintaining their rights under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, I think we would have heard about it. I have not heard a word.

Mr. EDWARDS. Reclaiming my time, there are cases starting to come to the surface. For example, in the State of Florida or Georgia, a Jewish citizen, perfectly qualified for a job, was denied the right to a job simply because he was Jewish.

Now, again, I differ with the idea that the Title VII exemption of the Civil Rights Act allowed faith based groups to exercise religious discrimination or, in the worst cases, religious bigotry.

[Time: 12:45]

But I at least want to clarify, at least the gentleman is saying, for whatever reasons he mentioned, groups ought to be able to do with public tax dollars whatever they want; the gentleman is saying that it is okay for a faith-based group running a federally funded jobs training program to say to a Jew or a Catholic or a Christian of one denomination or another, we are not going to hire you even though you are perfectly qualified for this job, simply because of your religious faith. I think most Americans would think that type of religious discrimination is absolutely wrong, especially when we consider we cannot fund religious programs. We all agree that is prohibited under Federal law.

So what we are doing is we are funding social programs. Why should your religious faith have an affect on whether you can ladle soup at a soup kitchen or train a 5-year-old child? Perhaps we have just an honest disagreement. I think it is wrong for a group to say with tax dollars we are not going to hire you because of your personal religious faith. Perhaps the gentleman feels that these groups ought to be able to discriminate in that fashion. And if he does, then at least that is an honest debate and we will let the American people decide which side they come down on.

One other point. I would challenge the gentleman. Other than the gentleman's tremendous knowledge as the chairman of this committee, there were not 10 Members out of 435 in this House that knew the discrimination language was in there in 1998. I have gone back and chronicled the first 3 or 4 times that we passed charitable choice language like this. The first time was the Welfare Reform Act. Virtually no one in the House, other than maybe the conferees, some of them, knew it was in there. The second time we passed it was at about 1 o'clock in the morning. The third time was at about 12:30 in the morning with 2 or 3 Members on the floor. Every time we passed it Members would say, We already passed this before. People did not know it was in there.

So I think all of that is irrelevant.

The fundamental question is should an American citizen be discriminated against for a tax-funded job simply because he or she is exercising their deeply-felt personal religious faith. In my opinion, that kind of subsidized Federal bigotry based on religious faith is a prescription for disaster in this country. And President Clinton, when he signed this legislation and other legislation with charitable choice language in it, made it very clear he did not support that kind of discrimination, and he only signed the bill because of the other good things in it, and his administration had no intention of letting that kind of discrimination occur. With this administration, the present Bush administration, they
have said no, it is okay to discriminate against someone based on their religion.

Mr. BOEHNER. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman would yield, this is not the only statute on the books that allows religious organizations to maintain their 1964 protections under the Civil Rights Act; there are at least a half a dozen others.

But the point I would make is that if we want to debate the merits or changes to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, let us do that out of the bill that comes out of the Committee on the Judiciary, where it was rightfully debated and processed. The fact is, the 1964 Civil Rights Act is very clear in providing this exemption to these organizations. And if the gentleman disagrees with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended in 1965, let us take that debate to the Committee on the Judiciary, let us bring the bill out here and have that debate. But that is the law.

What we are trying to do here is to comply with that. And in the underlying bill here, the Community Services Block Grant bill, we have had this exemption, maintained this exemption for those organizations. All we do in this bill today is to maintain it.


Mr. BOEHNER. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the gentleman yielding, and I clearly recognize that there is a difference of opinion on this. I do not castigate any aspersions on the feelings of my colleagues. But both of my colleagues on the other side here who have engaged in this debate have referred to the intent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Edwards) even used Senator Ervin's name in terms of there was no intent for these organizations to give up, to give up their religious exemption.

I have a quote here from Senator Ervin during that debate and he said, "This amendment is to take the political hands of
Caesar off the institutions of God where they have no place to be." I would suggest to both gentlemen that Senator Ervin from North Carolina clearly intended for the hiring exemption under title VII to be there.


Mr. BOEHNER. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the gentlewoman yielding me this time.
In answering the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott)'s question, the fact is this has been the law of the land in this program for 6 years, and I challenge anyone to come to the floor and say where there has been a problem, because there has not been a problem.

But in the bigger question, let us not forget that these faith-based organizations in many of our poorest communities are doing tremendous work to help needy people. And my concern, by changing the law along the lines of what my two colleagues would like to do, would be to provide a chilling effect on faith-based organizations from participating in programs to help their fellow citizens.

So we will have plenty of time for this debate this afternoon once we get into the bill, but I do think that there are various points of view here. They ought to be heard. The rule allows for a clear and open debate on this question and the rest of the bill, and let us have that debate then.

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