(202) 225 - 3130
WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) released the following remarks today, as prepared for delivery on the House floor, in opposition to the Boustany Amendment to Head Start reauthorization legislation. The Boustany amendment would allow some Head Start programs to use federal taxpayer dollars to discriminate against qualified teachers and other employees solely because of their religion or personal religious views:
“Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the Republican Majority abandoned its partisan approach on this important legislation – the School Readiness Act – when it was considered by the Education and Workforce Committee. Unlike the bill considered by this House in 2003, this legislation does not attempt to block grant the Head Start program.
“Furthermore, it strengthens academic content and improves teacher quality. It promotes better coordination between Head Start and other early childhood programs. And it strengthens accountability. As a result, this bill was reported out of committee on a bipartisan basis.
“However, while the underlying bill contains long-standing non-discrimination provisions, the Boustany Amendment takes the extraordinary step of repealing these civil rights protections. And, for the first time, it would introduce discrimination into our Head Start programs by saying that Head Start teachers can now be hired and fired solely on the basis of religion.
“Let know one here be mistaken: The Boustany Amendment – by codifying the right to discriminate with taxpayers’ dollars – is nothing less than a poison pill.
“Of course, supporters of this Amendment claim that they are only trying to make the law consistent with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But do not be misled. Title VII includes a narrowly drawn exemption for faith-based organizations performing private functions with their own money.
“In contrast, the Boustany Amendment specifically repeals civil rights protections in current law to permit federal dollars to be used to discriminate. That is not only outrageous, it is also unnecessary. Faith-based organizations are not clamoring for the right to discriminate with federal dollars. And we must not let them get away with it.
“Democrats have always been committed to Head Start and the importance of early childhood education. And we have long recognized the vital contributions of faith-based Head Start providers.
“It is indeed unfortunate that the Majority has provoked this unnecessary debate today, rather than addressing Head Start’s funding shortfall. It is shameful that Head Start can only serve three out of every five eligible children, leaving some 40 percent of eligible children with no seat at the table. That is the debate we ought to be having.
“I urge my colleagues to vote against the Boustany Amendment.”