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  Religious Freedom
ADL Urges House Members to Maintain Civil Rights Protections in Head Start Program
Note: The following letter was sent to all members of the Education and Workforce Committee, U.S. House of Representatives.

  May 18, 2005

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, we write to urge you to maintain the civil rights protections currently included in the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123) - and to oppose any efforts to repeal these important provisions. From our 92 years of day-to-day experience serving our constituents, ADL can testify that the more government and religion become entangled, the more troubling the environment becomes for each.

After mark-up by the Subcommittee on Education Reform, HR 2123 retains the nondiscrimination provision that has been included in Head Start legislation since 1981. Head Start teachers and volunteers have benefited from this fundamental civil rights protection against employment discrimination since its enactment in the 97th Congress. The provision received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate at the time of its passage, and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. For twenty-four years, since the beginning of the Head Start program, the civil rights provision has worked well, allowing religious organizations to participate in the program while maintaining constitutional and civil rights standards.

We have great appreciation for the vital role religious institutions have historically played in addressing many of our nation's most pressing social needs, as a critical complement to government-funded programs. For decades, government-funded partnerships with religiously-affiliated organizations - such as Catholic Charities, Jewish Community Federations, and Lutheran Social Services - have helped to combat poverty and provided housing, education, and health care services for those in need. These successful partnerships have provided excellent service to communities, largely unburdened by concerns over bureaucratic entanglements between government and religion. Indeed, at the same time that safeguards have protected beneficiaries from unwanted and unconstitutional proselytizing during the receipt of government-funded services, they have also protected the integrity and sanctity of America's religious institutions - whose traditional independence from government has contributed to the flourishing of religion in our country.

We urge you to oppose any attempt to remove civil rights protections from Head Start. A change in current law to permit employment discrimination on the basis of religion will dramatically hurt the lofty objectives of this essential program.

  Michael Lieberman
Washington Counsel
Jess N. Hordes
Washington Director

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