CHN: Faith-Based Initiative Still Stalled in the Senate

Some Democrats Push for Employment Anti-Discrimination Clause
While the Senate Finance Committee approved a version (S 1924) of President Bush’s faith-based initiative (HR 7) on July 16, 2002, Senate floor action is being delayed by Democrats who insist on adding language to the measure that would ban employment discrimination by religiously affiliated programs that receive federal funding. HR 7 extends Title 7 exemptions of 1964 civil rights law (PL 88-352) for religious organizations, allowing them to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring. The Senate bill strikes language allowing federally funded religious organizations to discriminate in hiring, but some Democrats are pushing for specific language banning such hiring practices before S 1924 is brought to the floor.

One of the President’s signature agenda items, the faith-based initiative is designed to provide more tax breaks for charitable donations of corporate stock by individuals and companies. The legislation would also direct more federal grant money to nonprofit groups who provide public services such as job training and mental health counseling. The bill would cost $5.3 billion over ten years and includes a two-year, $2.6 billion provision to allow individuals who do not itemize deductions to deduct contributions of between $250 and $500.

Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Richard Durban (D-IL) are threatening to oppose S 1924 unless an anti-discrimination clause is added. Sponsor Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) are leading efforts to salvage the bill, which currently has nine Democratic and eighteen Republican cosponsors. If the bill does not reach the Senate floor, GOP leaders threaten that they will push for a vote on the faith-based legislation as an amendment to homeland security legislation (HR 5005). Santorum filed the amendment on September 24.

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