As Congress moves ahead with childcare legislation, religious groups argue about the implications for church-based centers.

For Linda Worrell, the childcare battle being waged on Capitol Hill this spring is more than just another obscure political debate. As supervisor of the Child Development Center and Daycare at Grace Brethren Christian Schools in Temple Hills, Maryland, Worrell is waiting to see what legislation emerges from Congress, knowing it could have a direct impact on her program.

With a staff of 40, Grace Brethren serves about 115 preschoolers with a childcare program that includes Bible lessons, devotions, and prayer. But those activities could mean that Grace Brethren Schools, the largest day-care provider in the county, would not be eligible for government grants and childcare vouchers under the federal programs now being considered by Congress.

Though Worrell has willingly complied with state and county regulations of her facility, restrictions on the religious activities of her center could be one string too many attached to the federal dollars. In that case, “We don’t want government funds,” she says.

Like many other childcare providers—secular and sacred alike—Worrell worries that such restrictions will set up “unfair competition” between church-run centers and secular providers who are able to accept government money. And they fear that low-income parents will be forced to choose between the more affordable, subsidized secular care and childcare that offers the religious values they cherish.

According to congressional estimates, church-based care accounts for about one-third of all childcare in the United States. So, not surprisingly, church-state issues were a major point of discussion as the House of Representatives ...

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