HR 27 also known as the ‘Job Training Improvement Act of 2005′ has created quite a stir among civil rights-advocates due to its inclusion of a nondiscrimination clause which, quite frankly, allows for discrimination.
What is HR 27?
HR 27 was introduced by Republican Representative Howard McKeon from California and was cosponsored by 14 other Republican Representatives.
‘The Job Training Improvement Act of 2005′ amends the ‘Workforce Investment Act of 1998′ which set up nondiscrimination requirements for all organizations receiving government funds.
Essentially, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 required that all organizations (including religious-based schools, societies, and corporations) that receive government funds from federal tax dollars, cannot discriminate who they hire on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or political affiliation. For example, if you are a Jewish-based elementary school that receives federal tax dollars, you cannot decide to hire only Jewish teachers, administrators, and janitors, and still expect to receive federal aid. Federal aid comes from federal taxes collected from all Americans– not just Jewish ones– so it made sense that Americans would not financially support organizations that would intentionally exclude them on some level.
HR 27 makes an exception for religious organizations to discriminate who they employ in their job training programs if the candidates religious affiliation or religious beliefs do not coincide with those of the organization.
The exemption falls under Section 127 of HR 27.
The actual clause reads, "…no individual shall be excluded from participating in, denied the benefits of, subjected to discrimination under, or denied employment in administration of or in connection with any such program or activity because of race, color, rilition, sex (except as otherwise premitted under title IX of the Education Amdendments of 1972), national origin, age, disability, or political affiliation."
It then goes on to outline the following exception:
Exemptions for Religious Organizations– "Paragraph A shall not apply to a recipient of financial assistance under this title that is a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society, with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such a corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. Such recipients shall comply with other requirements contained in subparagraph A.
In plain English, this means that if HR 27 passes, the hypothetical Jewish elementary school I mentioned above, can decide to hire a Jewish first grade teacher with lesser qualifications, less experience, and fewer credentials over a more qualified Presbyterian teacher, and still receive government aid which comes from Jews and Presbyterians alike.
Some may argue that religious-based organizations have the right to hire whoever they want based on whatever criteria they set forth, and if one of the goals of that organization is to propagate the morals and values associated with that religion, they have every right to do so. I agree. But not with my money. Organizations that choose to discriminate who they employ on the basis of religious affiliation may do so, but they should collect private donations from others who share their beliefs and support their decision to practice "selective hiring."
How Does HR 27 Affect Us?
There are countless religious-based charities that receive federal funding from the government. Without this additional support, these charities– most of which provide essential community services that promote education, access to medicine for the poor, counseling, and other beneficial community services– would fold under financial distress. But don’t be mistaken. These non-profit organizations collectively employ hundreds of thousands of people, and as a whole, are a significant source of employment in this country.
For example, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) which began as an organization to promote Christianity and Christian principles to young men, is the largest non-profit organization in the U.S. with 2,500 branches serving more than 10,000 communities. The YMCA clearly states that it does not discriminate against anyone (membership, nor employment) on any basis (including those who are not Christian), but they have made that decision on their own accord and there are many other religious-based associations that would prefer to hire only same-faith workers if they could.
Another example. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago received $135,468,000 from government contracts in 2004. $1,429,000 was spent on job training programs. I do not know exactly how many workers are employed in the the Catholic Charities’ job training programs, but we can assume with an operating budget of over a million dollars, that the organization employs several people. These people most likely range from administrators of the programs to actual teachers who assist out-of-work Americans in learning new skills that make them more viable candidates in the workforce. Under HR 27, Catholic Charities would have the choice to hire only Catholics (and only Catholics who believe in the same exact doctrines if they so desire) to provide these services. Now, does being Catholic make you better at teaching computer skills than someone who is not Catholic? I don’t think so. But under HR 27, discriminating against a non-Catholic would be acceptable, and in no way prevent the organization from receiving their federal grants.
So, this does affect all of us. It basically rolls back basic civil liberties and rights guaranteed to all Americans and allows faith-based organizations to play by a different set of rules than any other company, organization, or institution.
Does HR 27 Really Violate the Constitution?
Yes, it does. In the U.S. Constitutions’ Bill of Rights (First Amendment), it is stated, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Now, this doesn’t exactly address a religious-based institution’s right to deny employment to workers of different faiths. So I did more research.
In 1947, the Supreme Court, whose job is to interpret the laws of the United States, ruled: "The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever from they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State’."
The key phrase is that the government cannot pass laws which aid all religions.
Plain and simple, this is exactly what HR 27 does, and it is in direct violation of First Amendment.