Religious liberty watchdogs are raising concern about the child care plan within President Biden's massive "Build Back Better" plan, saying its requirements could shut out Christian and other faith-based facilities that affirm traditional, biblical doctrine.
The White House says the bill would cut "child care spending on young children by more than half" and provide "free preschool for all 3- and 4-year old children."
The controversy involves language within the House-passed bill that would require preschool and child care facilities to abide by federal nondiscrimination laws related to gender identity and sexual orientation. This means, critics say, that faith-based facilities that affirm biblical beliefs on marriage and gender would not be able to participate because they do not hold to LGBT ideology.
The Build Back Better bill would represent a change in how faith-based child care centers receive funding. Currently, they are not bound by federal nondiscrimination laws.
A poll released this summer by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that 53 percent of the child care facilities used by parents are faith-based.
The bill has sparked concern from Christian, Catholic and Jewish institutions.
Alliance Defending Freedom last week released a statement criticizing the bill's language. ADF's Zach Pruitt said the bill "contains funding provisions and new grant programs that are likely to exclude many faith-based childcare providers while cutting funding to existing childcare programs currently being utilized by many faith-based providers." This, he said, "jeopardizes the freedom of parents to send their children to childcare programs that align with their religious beliefs."
Religious organizations, according to the New York Times, say the bill's provisions would "force them to choose between participating in the child care initiative and continuing to teach religious content, convene all-boys or all-girls programs, or give preferences in hiring or admissions to people of their religion."
"It will be detrimental to our ability to participate," Jennifer Daniels, the associate director for public policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), told the Times. "It would impact our ability to stick with our Catholic mission in a variety of ways. We've worked really hard to make our concerns known."
The USCCB has said the bill's provisions are a "departure from the approach in existing federal programs" and present "new and troubling compliance obligations."
"This will effectively exclude many faith-based providers from participation (or in some already existing state-based programs, continued participation), thereby severely limiting options for families, and suppressing a mixed delivery system," the USCCB said.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin reportedly has sided with religious groups on the issue, The Times says.
Theologian and seminary president Albert Mohler says that if the bill passes, "religious institutions … would not be able to operate" in a way that's "consistent with their own beliefs, especially when it comes to the gender and sexual morality revolution."
"It may be true that there would be many Christians who would say, 'Well, this isn't about me. It's not about my interest. It's not about my religious organization or favorite institution,'" said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "... Just understand profoundly that if they're coming with this revolution for the Orthodox Jewish preschool, they're coming for yours as well."
Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Sushiman
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.