Faith-based organizations account for more than half of the early childhood care providers in the United States, serving some 53% of families, according to a recent report.
That service, though, could be in jeopardy, leaders of the Catholic Church and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America told The New York Times, arguing the strings attached to the Pre-K and child-care plans included in President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion Build Back Better bill could force religious groups to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
From The Times:
The provision at issue is a standard one in many federal laws, which would mandate that all providers comply with federal nondiscrimination statutes. Religious organizations, whose child care programs are currently exempt from some such laws, argue that it would effectively block many of their providers from participating, while civil rights advocates contend it is long past time for such institutions to comply.
Nondiscrimination laws would, for example, prohibit a Christian company from refusing to hire an LGBTQ-identifying employee or even an atheist. They could also shutter a smaller child-care or Pre-K facility if the space does not meet requirements for disabled students.
“It will be detrimental to our ability to participate,” Jennifer Daniels, associate director for public policy at the U.S. Conference of Bishops, told The Times. “It would impact our ability to stick with our Catholic mission in a variety of ways. We’ve worked really hard to make our concerns known.”
The concern among religious groups is the Build Back Better legislation would retool how the government interacts with Pre-K and childcare centers. For many years, low-income families have received funding from the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which they can then use at child-care centers of their choosing. Those centers, then, are not direct recipients of federal monies, so they are not beholden to some nondiscrimination laws.
This bill, however, would reclassify any Pre-K or child-care facilities that participate in the new program as direct recipients of federal funds, forcing them to come into compliance with nondiscrimination laws with which they may disagree.
As a result, religious groups are urging Congress to amend the Build Back Better plan.
Democratic lawmakers backing the massive legislation, however, see it differently.
“The Build Back Better Act must not allow government-funded discrimination — in employment or in the provision of services to participants — in publicly funded programs,” said Reps. Robert Scott (D-Va.) and Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio). “We believe that allowing such discrimination financed with public funds collected from all taxpayers is wrong.”
“We are asking you to oppose any effort to remove or change the nondiscrimination provisions included in the child care and universal preschool provisions of the Build Back Better Act,” they added.
Leftist groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are also arguing faith-based organizations should not be allowed to claim religious liberty protections.
Liz King, director of the Education Equity Program for the conference, asked: “Who do they want to shut out? Is it the lesbian mom you want to shut out? Is it the children with autism you want to shut out? Since at least 1964, the law and basic principle has been that federal funds cannot be used to discriminate. No one should have to subsidize their own discrimination.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a moderate Democrat and consistent critic of the Biden administration’s far-left agenda, reportedly told his fellow Democrats that faith-based groups would benefit greatly from federal funding, noting how critical a role Christian organizations play in helping care for families in West Virginia.
Manchin’s insistence that faith-based groups not be excluded from federal aid “found widespread support” among other Democratic senators, according to The Times. The legislation, though, has not yet been changed.
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