Catholic leaders, including the U.S. bishops’ conference, have joined an interfaith letter that seeks provisions in Build Back Better Act’s childcare and pre-kindergarten programs allowing discrimination, including against LGBTQ people.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Religious Liberty and on Catholic Education, Catholic Charities USA, and the National Catholic Educational Association were signatories alongside two dozen religious organizations who sent the letter to U.S. Senate leaders. (The Jesuits also voiced their opposition to non-discrimination protections in a separate appeal to supporters.)
Among the Build Back Better Act’s programs are $380 billion in funding for childcare and universal pre-kindergarten, the latter a new initiative. Crux reported further:
“There’s nothing in the legislation’s current text that explicitly excludes religious providers from participation in the programs. Instead, what religious leaders argue is that technical aspects of the bill’s provisions force providers to comply with federal non-discrimination provisions, which many religious providers would be unwilling to do because of their beliefs. . .
“With both the childcare program and universal pre-K program, the Build Back Better Act stipulates participating providers are considered recipients of federal financial assistance, and adds that nondiscrimination provisions ‘shall apply to any program or activity that receives federal funds under this section’ with no religious exemptions included.
“The non-discrimination requirements the bill outlines are: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section of 654 of the Head Start Act.”
While not every requirement cited above includes explicit LGBTQ protections, the widespread exemption sought by the letters’ signatories would allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination by religious organizations even though they receive taxpayer funds. The letters’ signatories argue, as worded in a press release from the U.S. bishops:
“[T]he bill’s current provisions make it virtually impossible for many faith based providers to participate in the program by departing from current federal child care policy and attaching new compliance obligations that would interfere with providers’ protected rights under Title VII and Title IX regarding curricula or teaching, sex-specific programs (such as separate boys or girls schools or classes), and preferences for employing individuals who share the providers’ religious beliefs.
“The faith community has always affirmed that parents should choose the best environment for care and education of their children. The current Build Back Better Act provisions would severely limit the options for parents, suffocate the mixed delivery system for child care and pre-kindergarten, and greatly restrict the number of providers available for a successful national program.”
As the U.S. bishops have done previously with legislation like the Violence Against Women Act and comprehensive immigration reform, they are again hindering the common good’s advancement by focusing on their desire not to observe non-discrimination protections. Eliminating these protections in the Build Back Better Act would not only affect LGBTQ people. It could open the door to discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and other protected classes.
Expanding childcare and implementing universal pre-kindergarten would greatly help young people, families, and society at large. Catholic leaders must decide if they want to choose that good or an exemption to discriminate. They cannot do both.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, December 3, 2021