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Reform Jewish Leader Condemns House Vote in Favor of Religious Discrimination
In response to today’s House vote on an amendment permitting religious discrimination in hiring by Head Start programs paid for with tax dollars, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism,issued the following statement noting, "Applying a religious test to employees teaching secular subjects, and whose salaries are paid with tax dollars, is a disservice to teachers, their students, parents, and the diversity of religion in our nation.

Pelavin: Applying a religious test to employees teaching secular subjects, and whose salaries are paid with tax dollars, is a disservice to teachers, their students, parents, and the diversity of religion in our nation.

Contact: Alexis Rice or Barbara Weinstein 202.387.2800

Washington, September 22, 2005 - In response to today’s House vote on an amendment permitting religious discrimination in hiring by Head Start programs paid for with tax dollars, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

Today’s House vote in support of an amendment to permit Head Start programs to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion while accepting federal funds is a blow to the efficacy of this program that has well served our nation’s children for decades.

The more than 1 million children who participate in Head Start deserve the best trained and most experienced teachers available. Applying a religious test to employees teaching secular subjects, and whose salaries are paid with tax dollars, is a disservice to teachers, their students, parents, and the diversity of religion in our nation.

As a religious organization, we recognize the importance of faith in our society and support all those who come to our synagogues in search of spiritual fulfillment. But for those houses of worship that also serve their community as a Head Start center, there must be a clear division between religious mission and secular service. The constitutionality of permitting religious discrimination in hiring when using federal tax dollars remains an open question, yet on a policy level it is clear that such discrimination is simply misguided. Throughout its history, the over 20 million children served by Head Start have been taught by teachers qualified in early childhood education – not theology.

To now overturn more than three decades of proven public policy ensuring religious non-discrimination in Head Start is foolish at best and reckless at worst. Congress would better spend its time focusing on legislative efforts to improve American public education than considering how to use public funds to divide pre-schoolers along religious lines. We call on the Senate to reject any similar effort to include religious discrimination in Head Start and ensure that our nation’s children are provided with the best education we are capable of providing.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism , whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis , whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis .



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