Controversial Section of CARE Provision Dropped

Mar 31, 2003 01:25 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- Senate leaders retracted their support of a Senate bill which was an important part of President Bush’s “faith-bawsed initiatives.” Senator Rick Santorum announced that many Senate leaders wished to drop a portion of the CARE – Charity, Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act of 2003 to ensure the passage of Bush’s bill, March 27.

During a press conference at the Capitol, Santorum said that he and other leaders “"have agreed in a unanimous-consent request to remove that provision from the bill," he said. "We have spoken to several who have expressed concerns…. The ones I have spoken with have said that, if that issue is off the table, this can pass."

The CARE Act would expand the government funding to heavily religious organizations, and would allow such groups to hire on the basis of religion or ideology. Opponent to the CARE act contended that the bill would church-state lines and allow employment discrimination with federal dollars.

Congressional critics argue that the CARE Act provision will leave the door open for the Bush administration to interpret the already existent statutes which already allows for organizations with some religious affiliation to receive funding under all federal programs, as expanding government’s ability to fund pervasively religious groups.

"The Senate language is less direct than the House language, but it could be just as devastating in its impact by potentially allowing billions in federal tax dollars to go to churches, along with the regulations and red tape that go along with that money," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas).

Furthermore, Edwards argued that the bill did not include explicit protections against federal dollars being used to fund religious organizations that could practice employment discrimination.

"I just can’t imagine…the U.S. Senate wanting to be silent on this question: Should a church associated with Bob Jones University be able to use federal tax dollars in making a sign that says, 'No Jews, no Catholics need apply here for this federally funded job'?" Edwards asked. "When it comes to the fundamental principles of church-state separation and not discriminating on people based on their religion, silence [in the bill] is totally inadequate."

Initially, critics attempted to amend the bill from such acts, but failed to present it on a floor vote.

Greg McCarthy, spokesman for Senator Jack-Reed, leading critic of the provision, said Santorum’s announcement was welcome.

"Obviously, the legislative process is a long one," McCarthy said. "So they'll work with Sen. Santorum and members of the House to ensure that a final bill will represent the spirit of what Sen. Santorum had to say today.

"Right now, the consensus is this is something that our side can work with and they're willing to look at this as a serious proposal," Joe Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said following the press conference.

By Pauline J.