Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Operation Enduring Faith
The Poorest of the Poor

LAW AND JUSTICE
Operation Enduring Faith

While the Bush administration sells the “new-found religious freedom” of Iraqis to the American public, Democrats are fighting a battle at home to stop a GOP bill that would allow churches and other religious organizations to discriminate against potential employees based on their religious beliefs . Julia Elieperin and Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post report that the Workforce Investment Act, a program designed to assist the unemployed, provides federal funds to job training and literacy programs, many of which have religious affiliations. The Republican rationale is that religious organizations “must be free to preserve their essential character by hiring people who share their beliefs” — or maintain their disciminatory freedom, as it were.

The Act’s Thursday passage in the House is a renewal of a 1998 law that funds “One Stop Career Centers.” According to the Associated Press, the 1998 law prohibits religiously exclusive hiring practices. But Republican Congressmen claimed that “religious organizations are exempt in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, meaning they can use faith as a factor in hiring people to carry out a group’s mission.” Up until now, if an organization received federal funds, it was forced to follow federal hiring guidelines.

This move to extend the exemption is a reflection of the current administration’s characteristic attempts to meld church and state. The President signed an executive order in December that provided tax dollars to religious groups even when they hire based on religion, but, according to the AP, “Bush’s plan to open up federal contracts to religious groups has stalled in Congress, and Republicans have pledged to act on it piece by piece in various bills.” Watch out. In this case, at least, Democrats are prepared and ready to fight to keep the bill from passing in the Senate, as Elieperin and Cooperman report:

“Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who mounted the fight against Bush’s initial faith-based initiative, said he is just as determined to block the proposed GOP changes to the jobs bill.

‘Our position is based upon a very simple premise: Individuals should not be discriminated against on religious grounds in a program that receives federal funds,’ Reed said. ‘We’re not going to back off it.'”

DOMESTIC NEWS
The Poorest of the Poor

According to a new The Children’s Defense Fund report, nearly one million African American children in the United States live not only in poverty, but in extreme poverty. The CDF defines a child in “extreme poverty” as a child living in a family that has an after-tax income below half of the poverty line. CDF charges the Bush Administration with dismantling crucial programs such as Head Start and Children’s Health Insurance Program which specifically aim to help these poorest children.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson from the Pacific News Service reports on this extreme poverty against the backdrop of the overall progress of Black America over the past twenty-five years.

Huchinson reports,

“The contrast to the tales of poverty can’t be more glaring. There are nearly 1 million blacks behind bars. The HIV/AIDS rampage, a sea of homeless persons and raging drug and gang violence plague many black communities.