White House Rejects Exemption for Charities That Won't Hire Gays

Activists say issue is not resolved.

BY: Richard Benedetto

 

USA TODAY



WASHINGTON, July 11, 2001 -- After a day of intense criticism, the Bush administration rejected a proposed regulation Tuesday that would have let religious groups receive federal money even if they refused to hire gays and lesbians.



The controversy drew the ire of gay rights groups as well as lawmakers who are being asked to pass President Bush's proposal to allow "faith-based" organizations to use federal tax dollars to provide social services



An internal report of the Salvation Army suggested that the Bush administration, in exchange for the charity's support for its initiative before Congress, would help religious groups skirt state and municipal laws that bar job discrimination against gays.



Such laws usually do not apply to religious groups, but it is not clear whether they would if the groups took federal money under Bush's proposal.



Aides said the White House reviewed the Salvation Army request and decided that language in existing laws and Bush's faith-based initiative offers religious charities adequate protections.



"These protections ensure that religious organizations have the right to hire individuals who share their religious faith. They also ensure that such organizations comply with civil rights laws," Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said.



Gay rights leaders want the issue settled by Congress during consideration of Bush's bill.



"The question of whether or not the federal government should be providing special protections to religious organizations to discriminate against gay and lesbian Americans with federal taxpayer dollars deserves broad public debate," said Winnie Stachelberg of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian rights group.



Vice President Cheney and other administration officials said churches and other religious groups should be allowed to stick to their principles in running social service programs with government money.



The controversy could cause problems for Bush's initiative, which will begin to be debated today when the House Ways and Means Committee takes up a key part of the proposal. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., said he plans to raise objections to the possibility that the initiative will cause discrimination.



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