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Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



S. 3821. A bill to amend title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the ground of religion in educational program or activities; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to urge support for legislation I am introducing today to amend Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by any organization, program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, including colleges and universities. If recipients fail to comply, the federal agency providing the assistance may terminate funding, and organizations risk losing their eligibility for future funding.

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, OCR, is tasked with enforcing Title VI as it applies to colleges and universities. OCR, however, believes that it does not have jurisdiction over complaints based solely on religion as opposed to race, color, or national origin. This means that when a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Sikh is harassed or discriminated against for being a Jew, a Muslim, or a Sikh, OCR must first determine whether the harassment or discrimination is a result of the student's religion or a result of her race, color, or national origin.

In most cases involving such discrimination, the perpetrator himself probably wouldn't even know if his hatred stems from prejudice based on religion or prejudice based on race, color, or national origin. Yet, before acting to protect these students, OCR has to determine the motive behind the perpetrator's actions. This wastes valuable time and allows the discrimination to continue pending the determination. Furthermore, it sets a dangerous example to require OCR to make such a determination and then in essence say the harassment and discrimination is okay provided it was based on religion and not on race, color, or national origin.

Many people are not aware that Title VI does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. This is because discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited in virtually every other civil rights law and has become such a fundamental principle of our country that we just assume the protection exists. For example, titles other than Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibit religious discrimination in other contexts.

In 1941, President Roosevelt issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in the Federal Government and in the defense industry on grounds of ``race, creed, color, or national origin.'' The Civil Rights Act of 1957 established the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to investigate discrimination on the basis of ``color, race, religion, or national origin.'' The Civil Rights Act of 1964 itself included numerous prohibitions on religious discrimination, just not in Title VI. For example, Title VII of the 1964 Act prohibits discrimination in employment. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 governing housing, continued to prohibit discrimination on the basis of ``race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.''

When it comes to education, the 1964 Act provides two mechanisms that address religious discrimination. First, the Attorney General is given limited authorization to sue public colleges that deny admission on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in a way that limits educational desegregation. Second, the Attorney General is authorized to intervene in certain pending equal protection cases claiming discrimination ``on account of race, color, religion, sex or national origin'' if the case is of sufficient public importance. However, the Justice Department may not institute such actions on its own, and no federal agency is authorized to investigate run-of-the-mill religious discrimination cases at educational institutions or cases in which the victim has been unable to initiate litigation.

Why was religious discrimination left out of Title VI? Key members of Congress wanted to make sure that religiously affiliated colleges maintained their ability to discriminate in favor of co-religionists in admissions and extra-curricular activities. The original version of the bill that would become Title VI, drafted by the Department of Justice, did ban religious discrimination in federally assisted programs or activities. However, Emanuel Celler, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman and sponsor of the bill, explained during floor debate that he wanted to permit denominational colleges to engage in certain forms of discrimination in favor of co-religionists. Celler stated that he wanted to ``avoid a good many problems'' relating to funding that ``goes to sectarian schools and universities.'' He explained that ``for these reasons, the subcommittee and, I am sure, the full committee or the majority thereof deemed it wise and proper and expedient--and I emphasize the word `expedient'--to omit the word `religion.' ''

Congressman Celler may have been right that eliminating religion made it expedient, but it did not make it correct. Congressman Celler's concerns could have been addressed with some clarifying language that such institutions would still be allowed to favor co-religionists.

The bill that I am introducing contains such language. It states that the amendment is not to limit an educational entity with a religious affiliation, mission, or purpose from applying admissions policies, degree criteria, student conduct regulations, student organization regulations, or policies for faculty and staff employment, when these policies relate to the religious affiliation, mission, or purpose of the institution. Furthermore, it does not require educational entities to provide accommodation to any student's religion obligations such as dietary restrictions and school absences. Finally, if the educational entity permits expressive organizations to exist by funding or otherwise recognizing them, the amendment does not require the entity to limit such organizations from exercising their freedom of expressive association by establishing membership or leadership criteria.

Therefore, I am proposing an amendment to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The amendment simply provides the same protection against discrimination based on religion that this title already provides for discrimination based on race, color, and national origin.


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