The Republican attack on President Joe Biden’s plan to make child care more affordable and accessible has escalated around a defense of the right to discriminate. Republican politicians and media started by claiming, falsely, that the plan would exclude religious child care providers from receiving the new federal funds. In fact, it very explicitly includes them. But what religious groups are now howling about is that the Democratic plan does say they would have to abide by anti-discrimination rules.
So it’s not that religious child care providers couldn’t take federal subsidies under the Build Back Better proposal. It’s that they couldn’t do that while also discriminating against staff or families and their children for any reason attributed to faith.
Biden’s Build Back Better plan would “ensure that middle-class families pay no more than 7 percent of their income on child care and will help states expand access to high-quality, affordable child care to about 20 million children per year—covering 9 out of 10 families across the country with young children,” according to the White House. “For two parents with one toddler earning $100,000 per year, the framework will produce more than $5,000 in child care savings per year. Nearly all families of four making up to $300,000 per year will be eligible.”
Those are the stakes for millions of families. But on the other side, you have the right to discriminate, and it’s really no contest where Republicans land.
The New York Times offers a few examples of how applying anti-discrimination rules could affect how these programs operate: “For instance, it could bar federal funds from going to programs that refused to hire a gay employee, gave preference to applicants of their faith or failed to renovate their facilities to accommodate disabled students.” And all of these forms of discrimination are, according to Republicans, worth defending. Though many high-profile religious discrimination cases involve discrimination against LGBT people, it’s not just homophobia at work—it’s much broader than that.
Currently, some religious programs get federal money indirectly through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, and since it is indirect, they get to dodge anti-discrimination laws. Some religious groups—not all of them, because not all religious groups put discrimination at the center of their faith—demand that that continue.
”It will be detrimental to our ability to participate,” according to a spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It would impact our ability to stick with our Catholic mission in a variety of ways.”
You’re kind of telling on yourself, there.
But as we know, it is now a central tenet of the Republican faith that religious groups—at least Christian ones—must be entitled to both discriminate and get all the same benefits as groups that do not discriminate. There’s no concept here that one can either follow the rules and get the rewards for doing so, or one can say that standing on principle is more important than extra funding. They want both. They demand both.
We need to be specific about the kinds of things they’re proposing, because the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other groups, including a major orthodox Jewish group, are trying to tank a significant expansion of child care funding, one that would make care affordable for low- and middle-income families, over their right to shut some people out.
”Who do they want to shut out? Is it the lesbian mom you want to shut out?” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ Liz King asked, “Is it the children with autism you want to shut out? Since at least 1964, the law and basic principle has been that federal funds cannot be used to discriminate. No one should have to subsidize their own discrimination.”
Predictably, the pro-discrimination groups have found not just fierce advocacy from Republicans but a sympathetic ear in conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, setting up yet another fight between progressives in the House who think that funding discrimination would be wrong and Manchin in the Senate who thinks that blocking progress is his most winning stance.