The School Readiness Act of 2003 -Woolsey Amendment

Media 07.24,03

Recipient: U.S. House of Representatives

Ensure Civil Rights Protections in Head Start
Support the Woolsey Amendment

Dear Representative:

On behalf the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we urge you to oppose the School Readiness Act of 2003 (H.R. 2210), unless it contains civil rights provisions currently in the Head Start law, which bar participating religious organizations from giving hiring preference to those who share their religious beliefs. The Woolsey Amendment restores these provisions. If H.R. 2210 becomes law without the Woolsey language, it will break with the 60 year-old principle that federal funds shall not be used to discriminate.*

Since its creation in 1981, the Head Start program has included language prohibiting discrimination in employment based on religion for Head Start teachers and volunteers. This provision has never been controversial. The original legislation, including the very same civil rights provision that H.R. 2210 now seeks to repeal as applied to religious organizations, received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Over the last twenty-two years, the inclusion of the non-discrimination provision has worked well by allowing religious organizations to participate in large numbers in the Head Start program, while upholding civil rights standards.

The attempt in H.R. 2210 to amend this important federal civil rights provision to allow religious organizations that are recipients of federal funds to engage in employment discrimination is deeply troubling. If the civil rights protections included in current law were repealed, teachers or parent volunteers working in any Head Start program run by a religious organization could immediately lose their jobs because of their religion. This is not only inconsistent with our nation’s civil rights values, but would also send a damaging message to Head Start students that religious pluralism is not valued, as well as harm their education by separating students from their teachers and parent volunteers.

In the 60 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first executive order prohibiting discrimination in federally funded activity, our nation has made significant progress in the struggle to end employment discrimination and advance equality. Any attempt to eliminate civil rights protections from federal law would drastically impede that progress and erode a longstanding principle of our nation’s civil rights policy: that federal civil rights obligations follow federal dollars, regardless of who receives them.

Because of the importance of ensuring that all recipients of Head Start funds continue to be required to satisfy long-standing non-discrimination obligations, we urge you to oppose H.R. 2210. If you have any questions, please contact LCCR Deputy Director Nancy Zirkin at 202/263-2880, regarding this or any issue important to LCCR.


Dr. Dorothy I. Height

Wade Henderson
Executive Director

*Some organizations in the Leadership Conference do not join in this position because they disagree that allowing religious entities, including those participating in federally funded programs, to consider religion in hiring constitutes a threat to or violation of fundamental civil rights.