Faith-Based Discrimination

Since George W. Bush became president, HRC has been a vigilant

watchdog to see how the new administration will handle issues of concern to

the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The current battle

over President Bush’s faith-based initiative – including the Salvation Army

– is a critical test and sadly appears to reveal the administration’s true

colors.

We were stunned when we learned the administration and the Salvation Army

were using our lives – and the lives of our families – as bargaining chips

in a secret backroom deal. And we are gravely disappointed that President

Bush and Vice President Cheney sanctioned discrimination against GLBT

Americans. In a vote orchestrated by the GOP leadership in the House of

Representatives, they pitted important faith-based services against

important civil liberties. Their actions were unnecessary, divisive and

created conflict where there could have easily been consensus. On this

issue, we sought statesmanship and got brinkmanship. In short, we got

“confrontational conservatism.”

The White House-backed Community Solutions Act H.R. 7 offered by Reps. J.C.

Watts, R-Okla., and Tony Hall, D-Ohio passed July 19 in the House. The bill

would override state and local civil rights laws by allowing religious

organizations to discriminate in employment decisions and in the provision

of services. The measure would effectively allow our tax dollars to be used

to discriminate against us in places where state and local laws prohibit

discrimination against GLBT Americans. If it becomes law, this bill would

create a situation where many GLBT Americans would be publicly subsidizing

their own discrimination.

The Human Rights Campaign recognizes and supports the critical work

performed by the many faith-based organizations in our nation. We support

the principle of religious liberty. But the bottom line is our country

should not funnel tax money – that all of us pay – to groups that actively

discriminate. Religious freedom and freedom from discrimination must

harmoniously coexist and thrive together in a democratic society. And when

this legislation reflects these principles, it will find our support and the

support of the majority of Americans.

In letters, phone calls, appeals to the grassroots and countless hours of

lobbying, HRC, coalition partners and fair-minded members of Congress gave

the administration and the House Republican leadership every opportunity to

fix this bill. On Tuesday, Rep. Mark Foley, a moderate Florida Republican,

and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., both prepared amendments to H.R. 7 to fix

the bill. Both were rejected by the leadership.

When the bill reached the House floor July 18, it became crystal clear that

we had succeeded in lining up enough votes to send it back to the Judiciary

Committee with instructions to remove the offending language. It was then

that the administration and the House Republican leadership temporarily

pulled the bill in order to engage in a ferocious – and ultimately

successful –

effort to twist the arms of some two dozen moderate Republicans to oppose

any effort to change the bill.

The hypocrisy of the administration and the House leadership on this issue

is astounding. We are struck by the incongruous position of “states rights”

conservatives who have long trumpeted local control, only to run roughshod

over state and local civil rights laws in order to ram through this

discriminatory initiative. Their mantra of state and local control on

issues ranging from education to the environment is thrown out the window

when it comes to GLBT Americans. Moreover, it is clear the administration is

attempting to accomplish through legislation what they were unable to

accomplish through a regulatory deal with the Salvation Army.

We believe the action on July 19 was a hollow victory for the administration

and the House GOP leadership. This battle now moves to the Senate. By

ignoring pleas to fix the bill’s shortcomings, the administration has made

passage in the Senate demonstrably more difficult for itself. But we need

each and every one of you to keep this challenge alive.

Because what happens in Washington does matter, we are calling on every GLBT

American and those who care about us to challenge the White House to support

a Senate version of this bill that does not discriminate against GLBT

Americans. Call President Bush at 202-456-1414 and tell him: “It is wrong to

use federal funding – including my tax dollars – to support programs that

exempt religious organizations from civil rights laws.”

And consider this: Thousands upon thousands of Americans, including GLBT

Americans, received their notice of a tax refund on July 19. Think about

reinvesting that refund in the battle for GLBT equality. As for the team at

HRC, we will continue to do the hard daily work and not let up for a moment

until this legislation is cured of what ails it. Strong grassroots pressure

from around the nation, combined with strategic advocacy here in Washington

D.C., is the formula for success. And none of it happens without you.

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