Religious leaders warn Build Back Better threatens faith-based child care, education

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Two U.S. Catholic bishops signed a letter with other religious leaders expressing concern that the child care and universal pre-kindergarten provisions in the Build Back Better Act could exclude faith-based providers.

“The current Build Back Better Act provisions would severely limit the options for parents, suffocate the mixed delivery system for child care and pre-kindergarten, and greatly restrict the number of providers available for a successful national program,” the Dec. 1 letter, signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education, read.

Organizations representing Christians, Muslims, and Jews also signed the letter as the U.S. Senate considers the bill pushed by the Biden administration. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in November, approving nearly $2 trillion for social programs including universal pre-kindergarten, increased child-care subsidies, and initiatives intended to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

Faith leaders addressed the letter to two Senate leaders on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

“While language in the BBBA does not preclude parents from selecting sectarian providers, the subsequent provisions in the bill text make it virtually impossible for many religious providers to participate,” the letter read, referring to providers of child care and pre-kindergarten.

A statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cautioned that the legislation deviates from current federal child-care policy.

The bill’s provisions attach “new compliance obligations that would interfere with providers’ protected rights under Title VII and Title IX regarding curricula or teaching, sex-specific programs (such as separate boys or girls schools or classes), and preferences for employing individuals who share the providers’ religious beliefs,” the USCCB stated.

In their letter, the religious leaders said they have no intention of preventing anyone from receiving early learning rooted in faith.

“Faith-based providers strive to serve everyone, especially the less fortunate, whom the BBBA’s child care and UPK [universal pre-kindergarten] programs are specifically intended to benefit,” the letter read. “We simply ask to be allowed to continue our good work in caring for our nation’s children in a manner consistent with our beliefs.”

The following day, Dec. 2, the White House Press Office announced that President Joe Biden spoke with Murray on the phone about the Build Back Better Act in the Senate.

Murray and the president discussed the “unprecedented steps this legislation would take to help middle class families afford child care and to create the first-ever universal pre-k program across the United States,” the press office said.

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