No Taxpayer Dollars Should Be Spent on Employment Discrimination

Media 09.22,05

In an attempt to exploit the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the Republican-led House of Representatives today rammed through an amendment to the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123), which – if approved by the Senate – will allow taxpayer dollars to be spent to discriminate against employees in the Head Start program.

“This is a shameless attempt to capitalize on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina to advance a faith-based agenda that will amount to federally-funded employment discrimination,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition.

“Head Start has been our country’s most successful school readiness program for poor and low income families,” Henderson added. “It is simply outrageous for House Republicans to allow religious schools to require the equivalent of a religious loyalty oath in order for a teacher to be employed in their Head Start program.”

Cloaked in the rhetoric of helping the victims of the hurricane, Rep. Charles Boustany’s (R-LA) amendment would allow Head Start programs to use federal tax dollars to discriminate against qualified teachers and staff because of their religious views and affiliation. If the bill passes the Senate with this amendment intact, as many as 198,000 teachers and staff and more than 1,450,000 parent volunteers working with Head Start could lose their jobs based on where they do or do not worship.

Head Start has historically enjoyed broad bipartisan support. In fact, this bill was unanimously passed by the committee without the Boustany amendment to avoid injecting controversial partisan politics into Head Start.

Critical nondiscrimination civil rights provisions have been included in Head Start legislation since the bill was signed into law by President Nixon in 1972. But nondiscrimination in federally funded activity has been forbidden for more than 60 years, when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first executive order prohibiting it.

“This amendment doesn’t just rollback established civil rights protections, if approved by the Senate it politicizes and undermines an educational program for which there has been widespread public support,” said Henderson.