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    Senators soften language in Build Back Better bill restricting religious childcare, pre-K funding

    Classroom | Unsplash/Jason Sung

    A Senate committee has removed some of the controversial language in the Build Back Better bill that would restrict funding and aid for faith-based childcare and pre-K programs unless they adhered to federal anti-discrimination law.

    The proposed federal legislation had garnered concern from multiple faith groups that argued the bill would ban faith groups from obtaining federal assistance due to their religious views.

    According to a report[2] by the Washington, D.C.-based Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA) published Monday, two developments have emerged regarding the legislation.

    On Dec. 11, according to IRFA, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released revised language that removed the “proposed nondiscrimination requirements that would have banned religious hiring and religiously selective admissions in child care and pre-K programs.”

    “Child care certificates are confirmed to be ‘indirect’ government funding that allows child care providers to include religious teaching and activities. However, religion continues to be banned from the pre-K program, which is a grant-funded program,” explained the Alliance.

    “The language for both programs stresses the many legal obligations of participating programs without clearly emphasizing the protections for faith-based organizations and small organizations that will enable a wide range of them to know they are welcome in these programs.”

    IRFA noted that while they approve of the changes made to better include religious groups, they still maintain some concerns about the proposed legislation as written.

    Championed by the Biden administration, the Build Back Better Act is a major piece of proposed legislation that creates programs and establishes funding for a host of issues, including education, child care, taxes and immigration.  

    On Dec. 1, an interfaith coalition sent a letter[3] to Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chair and ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee, respectively, expressing concerns over how the BBB bill would impact their childcare and education services.

    According to the letter, “the current child care and universal pre-Kindergarten (UPK) provisions in the Build Back Better Act will suppress, if not exclude, the participation of many faith-based providers; and faith-based providers are what more than half of American families choose for child care.”

    “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,” stated the letter.

    According to the faith groups, the bill would define “all providers as recipients of federal financial assistance, whether the funds come via certificates (in the child care program) or direct grants (in the prekindergarten program),” which would trigger “federal compliance obligations and non-discrimination provisions.”

    Additionally, according to the letter, BBB would apply “nondiscrimination requirements to both the child care and universal pre-K sections that do not generally attach to FFA.”

    Signatories of the letter included Catholic Charities USA, two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the Council of Islamic Schools in North America, among others.

    Although the bill passed the House, it has become stalled in the Senate, in part because Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., expressed opposition[4] to it.

    Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook[5][6]


    ^ Michael Gryboski (^ a report (^ sent a letter (^ expressed opposition (^ Twitter (^ Facebook (

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