Reauthorizing the Head Start program (H.R. 1439)/Motion to recommit with instructions to amend the legislation to permit faith-based organizations that provide federally funded early-childhood development programs to take religious affiliation into account when hiring employees and clarify that such organizations could use "religious art, icons, scripture or other symbols"
house Roll Call 284 May 02, 2007
This was a vote to force adoption of an amendment to legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program through fiscal 2012. The proposal would have sent the bill back to committee with instructions to add language to allow faith-based recipients of Head Start funding to take religion into account when hiring employees for their early-childhood development programs. The amendment would have also clarified that faith-based organizations would not have to remove "religious art, icons, scripture or other symbols" in order to be eligible for federal funds.
The bill to which Republicans were seeking to amend would authorize $7.4 billion in funding for fiscal 2008 and such sums as may be necessary through fiscal 2012 for the early-childhood program.
Republicans attempted to force action on their proposal because Democratic-run Rules Committee blocked Republicans from offering a similar amendment on the House floor. (See Roll Calls 273-4.) Thus, a parliamentary tool called a motion to recommit was the only option Republican had left. If passed, a motion to recommit with instructions would have sent the legislation back to Education and Labor Committee with specific directions to amend the bill.
The amendment Republicans wanted to attach was drafted by Del. Luis Fortu¬ño (R-Puerto Rico). Republicans claimed that allowing groups receiving federal funds to use religion as a factor in hiring was both a civil rights and civil liberties issue.
Democrats called it straight-up discrimination.
Republican Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.) said that the amendment was meant to fix a "flaw" in the Head Start law, as "faith-based institutions have been forced to relinquish their civil liberties if they choose to participate in the federal early childhood program we are poised to reauthorize today."
"Faith-based organizations cannot be expected to sustain their religious mission without the ability to employ individuals who share the tenets and practices of their faith because it is that faith that motivates them to serve their neighbors in trouble," Fortu¬ño added.
Democrats said religious organizations were free to do as they wished so long as they don't accept federal funds. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) said the amendment should have been called the "religious job discrimination act."
Edwards called himself "a person of faith," and pointed out that the Baptist Joint Committee, the American Jewish Committee, the Episcopal Church, and the NAACP all opposed the Republican amendment.
"Our principle is simple but deeply profound. No American, not one, should ever have to pass another American's private religious test to qualify for a tax-funded federal job," Edwards added.
On an almost completely party-line vote, the House rejected the Republican motion to recommit. Two Republicans crossed party lines to vote against it, while four Democrats supported it. Thus, on a vote of 195 to 222, the House voted down a Republican proposal to allow faith-based groups that accept federal funds for Head Start to hire employees for their early-childhood development programs based on the individuals' religious affiliations, and legislation to reauthorize Head Start moved towards a final up-or-down vote without the language.
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