Nov 10, 1999

Proposed federal legislation designed to boost fathers' parenting skills and help low-income families stay off welfare is fundamentally flawed because it directs taxpayer money to religious groups, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The U.S. House of Representatives today voted 328-93 to approve the "Fathers Count Act" (H.R. 3073). Americans United says sections in the bill dealing with the funding of churches (the so-called "charitable choice" provisions) raise serious constitutional concerns. During the debate, the House took up an amendment offered by Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.) that would have limited participation to groups that are not "pervasively sectarian," but the measure failed 238-184.

"Fathers count, but so does the Constitution," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Promoting strong families is a good thing, but forcing taxpayers to support religious institutions against their will is not."

Americans United takes issue with a provision in H.R. 3073 requiring that at least 75 percent of the "fatherhood grants" in the bill be awarded to "non-governmental (including faith-based) organizations." The bill contains inadequate church-state safeguards to ensure that houses of worship don't spend federal money to advance their sectarian beliefs. It also permits religious groups to take government money and still discriminate in hiring.

"Taxpayer money should not be used to advance religious proselytism or finance religious discrimination," remarked Lynn. "For all concerned, it's best that houses of worship rely on private donations to fund their social service projects."