Secular Americans to Congress: Vote 'NO' for Direct Public Funding of Churches

Washington, DC--The Secular Coalition for America today urged Congress to vote down HR 592, which would amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act  to permanently allow federal grant money to go directly to churches and other houses of worship to rebuild after disasters.

This bill would reverse years of Supreme Court precedent and directly conflict with the First Amendment to the Constitution. Additionally, permitting public grants for churches and other houses of worship would unfairly privilege religious institutions above secular institutions, many of which are not eligible for the grants.

"We certainly recognize the difficulties everyone in a disaster-stricken area faces, and our sympathies are with all who are affected," said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition. "But in our desire to help others, we must not do so at the expense of our First Amendment, which is in place precisely to protect religious liberty for all."

Most nonprofits are instructed to apply for Small Business Administration Disaster Loans to rebuild. The law permits the government to provide grants to rebuild certain-but not all-nonprofit facilities. Only nonprofits with facilities used for emergency, essential, and government-like activities are eligible for grants. Typically even these nonprofits are required to first apply for an SBA loan before becoming eligible to receive any grant funding.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the outright government funding of churches and other houses of worship. This precedent has been upheld in at least six subsequent Supreme Court opinions, including Public Educ. v. Nyquist, 1973, where the Court found that no public funds could be used to repair or maintain facilities dedicated to the teaching of religion.

The Secular Coalition cited additional concerns with the prospect of awarding federal grants to churches. Because churches are exempt from the financial disclosure procedures of other nonprofits, such as submitting 990 forms to the IRS, it would be impossible for the government to ensure the funds awarded to the church are being used for their stated purpose.

The Secular Coalition said passage of the bill would create unfair advantages for religious institutions-and in effect, a government endorsement of religion-- because these institutions are exempt from paying taxes, offering financial transparency and filing the same financial disclosure as secular organizations, but would still benefit from public tax dollars.

The bill would create a double standard for religious institutions, who are exempt from standard laws it finds conflicts with its religious doctrine, but then asks to be treated equally with other organizations when it's convenient.

"You can't have it both ways-either you want to be treated like everyone else or you don't," said Rogers, noting that this bill comes just weeks  after churches were granted special exemptions from a law requiring coverage of contraceptive services. "It seems some religious institutions want to choose when they must comply with a law and when laws must comply with them. It's unfair for any organization to ask that the rules apply to them only when they are convenient and disregarded when they are not."

 The Secular Coalition sent letters to every member of Congress today, urging them to vote down this bill.

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at [email protected] or (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725

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