Monday, September 26, 2005

The Buddhist Blogger

In the parking lot at REI, I waited for the SUV to pass. The tax-deductible vehicle was covered with bright black-on-yellow signs, side and back: THE CHRISTIAN HANDYMAN.

Yes, Jesus was a carpenter, but otherwise, it's hard to say how Christianity qualifies a handyman for anything special. Except, perhaps, hiring on the basis of religion.

Now, Congress is forwarding a bill that would allow churches and other religious groups receiving federal money for preschools to hire teachers and child care workers based on religion.

In a broad update of the Head Start program, the House voted Thursday to let preschool providers consider a person's faith when hiring workers — and still be eligible for federal grants. The Republican-led House said the move protects the rights of religious groups, but Democrats blasted it as discriminatory.

The lines are predictably drawn.

The AP says Rep. John Boehner, Ohio Republican and chair of the House Education Committee, believes the bill ensures that faith-based centers "aren't forced to choose between relinquishing their identities or being shut out of the program altogether."

Where I come from as a non-profit board member, we encourage organizations not to relinquish their identities by chasing the money.

"This is about our children, and denying them exemplary services just because the organization happens to be a religious one is just cruel," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.

Poor babies. They will be denied services because organizations who are trolling outside their mission can't lap up the federal bucks? What about organizations that are actually focused on delivering child development services? Might'nt they be able to fill this terrible gap?

People are free to hire (or not) a Christian Handyman, a Christian Brain Surgeon or a Christian Hooker based on irrelevant criteria. If godliness is more important to poor parents than making sure their kids are ready to read and write, then they can send the wee ones to Sunday School. But the interest of the state is preparing children to succeed in school so they escape the cycle of poverty. Programs that receive state money should hire teachers, child care workers, tutors and child development specialists who are best qualified to deliver those services.

Church-based programs that want to pimp for state money should be able to pimp if they can do the job. They just can't discriminate, too.


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