July 17, 2001
On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), we are writing to you today to express our deep concern about several anti-civil rights provisions contained in HR 7, the “Community Solutions Act of 2001.” LCCR is the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil rights coalition, comprised of 180 national organizations representing persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, labor groups, gays and lesbians, older Americans, and religious groups. This coalition has played a lead role in enacting every advance in civil rights law over the past 50 years. We urge all Members to oppose the dangerous “charitable choice” provisions contained in the “Community Solutions Act” (HR 7) sponsored by Reps. J.C. Watts, Jr. (R-OK) and Tony P. Hall (D-OH).
These provisions would turn back the clock on our nation’s civil rights laws. LCCR believes that the employment discrimination provisions of HR 7 threaten a cornerstone principle of our nation’s civil rights laws; namely that federal funds must never be provided to programs that discriminate against others.
This core principle was first enunciated in 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first Executive order, prohibiting federal defense contractors from discriminating based on race, creed [religion], color, or national origin. In the 60 years since the signing of that executive order, we have taken colossal strides toward ending employment discrimination and advancing equality. Yet, HR 7 would effectively take the civil rights movement several steps backward.
Houses of worship are rightfully afforded an exemption under civil rights law that allow them to choose co-religionists for employment in privately funded activities that advance their religious mission. The courts have held that this exemption protects the religious liberty and autonomy of houses of worship in carrying out their religious mission. However, when a religious group voluntarily chooses to partner with the government, it must not use federal funds to discriminate in hiring practices or against beneficiaries in the provision of social services.
Importantly, HR 7 also contains language apparently designed to override state and local civil rights laws, which, in many states, cities and counties, are more protective than federal law. For example, several state and local laws protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. While press reports indicate that the Bush Administration has backed off an alleged agreement to promulgate regulations overriding such state and local civil rights laws, HR 7 would authorize this very same override under federal law.
Religious organizations have played a vital role in addressing some of our nation’s most critical social welfare needs. When these religious organizations seek federal funds, however, they must be governed by the same federal protections against discrimination as any other organization. We believe HR 7, while under the guise of protecting religion, amounts to a major attack on civil rights.
We urge you to oppose the “charitable choice” provisions of HR 7 and, if these provisions are not removed, to vote against final passage of HR 7. If you have any questions, please contact Nancy Zirkin, American Association of University Women, at 202/785-7720; Michael Lieberman, Anti-Defamation League, at 202/261-4607; Hilary Shelton, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at 202/638-2269; or Terri Ann Schroeder, American Civil Liberties Union, at 202/544-1681.
Dr. Dorothy Height