Just after 4 p.m. EST, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 7, the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives bill by a 233-198 vote. Actually, the vote was supposed to happen yesterday, but got postponed after "moderate" Republicans voiced concerns over language in the bill. They joined Democrats in criticizing a section of the bill guaranteeing religious organizations "autonomy from Federal, State, and local governments, including such organization's control over the definition, development, practice, and expression of its religious beliefs." This, of course, is a continuation of the recent debate over whether churches and organizations like the Salvation Army would be forced by local anti-discrimination laws to hire those who disagree with their religious teachings, such as practicing homosexuals. Chief among the Republican critics of the bill was Florida's Mark Foley, who said the bill has the "unintended consequence of superseding existing state and local laws that prohibit discrimination. … [T]he charitable arm which collects government funds should not be allowed to discriminate in their hiring practices or the delivery of services to those who need it most."

Editorials in various newspapers today condemned the bill for those same reasons, but the Family Research Council had reacted angrily to the proposed changes. The organization claimed the bill was "in danger of being hijacked by homosexual groups," and threatened to withdraw its support for the bill if the protections were dropped.

But despite Congress's holding the line on this latest set of proposed changes (the most important vote on the matter was defeated by a 234-195 vote), the bill isn't quite the same as initially proposed. For example, plans to allow taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions to deduct charitable contributions was cut back substantially. Such taxpayers will initially only be allowed to deduct $25, rising to $100 in 10 years (that works out to be $77 billion change from Bush's initial proposal).

A Salon.com article today calls the one day delay "a major embarrassment for the White House" and reiterates the Web site's earlier claims that the White House is quietly backing the Senate version of the bill. Hogwash on both counts. The bill succeeded without dangerous amendments that would have stripped rights already granted to religious organizations by the 1964 Civil Rights Act; that's a victory. A one day's delay of that vote is no defeat.

And don't expect the White House to turn its back on the House bill now that it's passed. If anything, White House official John DiIulio and others will be pushing hard in the Democrat-controlled Senate for every inch they can get.

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But even that vote may not be the faith-based initiative's biggest battle. Apparently the Republican House leadership was able to garner some support from its liberal wing by promising to address hiring concerns when differences between House and Senate bills are ironed out. Is that a promise to delete the language protecting religious organizations from local hiring mandates? Time will tell.

Expect more on the vote—both news reports and opinion pieces—tomorrow.

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