Whoever pays the piper may call the tune, but does he also get to pick the flute? Democrats who oppose Republicans' proposed reauthorization of Head Start probably would say yes.
The bill encourages religious organizations to participate in the federal program for preschool children by ensuring their freedom to consider religious beliefs as a factor in hiring. Democrats say government-funded groups should not have that freedom, and in recent months they have attacked similar provisions in the D.C. Parental Choice Incentive Act and the Workforce Investment Act. Foes of President Bush's faith-based initiative are systematically targeting provisions that protect the hiring freedom of religious organizations that would participate in federal programs.
When the D.C. parental-choice plan was considered in the Government Reform Committee last month, Democrats tried-unsuccessfully-to eliminate hiring protection for religious schools. Now the Head Start bill faces the same challenge as it goes to the House floor.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 acknowledges religious employers' freedom to hire on the basis of religion. Congressional advocates of the president's faith-based initiative have sought to reaffirm that this protection applies to groups that receive federal funding. With opponents equally committed to stripping such guarantees, however, this debate will continue as long as Congress considers legislation involving faith-based groups.