No/Yes to government funding of churches

The secular world is amping up its call for restrictions on religion, but this past week they lost the battle over government funding of churches.

I found an urgent email in my inbox a few days ago from the Secular Coalition of America.  They urged me to email my congressman and ask him to vote no to HR 592, The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013:

Despite its unconstitutionality, lawmakers tomorrow will consider HR 592—a bill to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to allow houses of worship to directly receive taxpayer dollars.

There’s a reason houses of worship are prohibited. 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.

This bill is primarily to help the disaster relief effort after Hurricane Sandy. It will provide aid to church buildings damaged in the storm as well as churches that are instrumental in rebuilding the community. But depending on what side of the secular line you are standing, this may or may not be a step in the right direction.

The amendment to the bill will look like this:

“(C) HOUSES OF WORSHIP. – A church, synagogue  mosque, temple, or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, shall be eligible for contribution under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”

But while the secularists were in strict opposition to the amendment, many religious organizations couldn’t be happier. Many of these organizations have been in direct contact with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and are acutely aware of the need for government funding to rebuild as well as help their communities. Much like the Coalition, the Jewish Press pleaded with its viewers to contact their representatives and urge a yes vote on HR 592.

After Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of New York City and the surrounding communities last fall, many synagogues and other houses of worship became distribution centers for material goods and spiritual relief to those affected.  Many of those buildings sustaining enormous damage from the storm.  But because those types of non-profits are not specifically mentioned in the authorizing legislation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been unwilling to provide them with available relief funds.

The HR 592 bill was voted on by congress on Sept. 13 and passed with an overwhelming vote of 354-72. It was a bipartisan decision that will have religious organizations throughout disaster areas falling to their knees in praise. But the secular society is less than amused. After receiving the plea for no votes, 2,500 letters were sent, causing 12 representative to change their yay’s to nay’s. But it was far from enough.

Should the government provide aid to churches? Will this start the government down the path of monetary influence over church function and practices? According the Bill the money is not to be used for the “primary religious use of the facility.” But secularists see this as simply one more way for the church is being tied into government, thus breaking down the wall of separation between church and state.

But Christopher Smith, R-N.J., one of the bill’s lead sponsors, would say this is about something more than the separation of church and state. It’s about not discriminating against people and organizations when they are brought to their weakest moments:

“Today’s debate and vote is about those who are being unfairly left out and left behind. It’s about those who helped feed, comfort, clothe and shelter tens of thousands of victims now being told they are ineligible for a FEMA grant.”


No more Amendment 8 in Florida

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Amendment 8 was repealed tonight in Florida. This amendment would have given churches and other religious organizations the ability to have public funding. It failed to pass with a vote of only 44 percent.

The Tampa Bay Times describe the decision in detail:

Voters rejected the amendment, titled “Religious Freedom,” one of the most controversial on the ballot, by 56 percent. The proposal would have repealed the 127-year-old Blaine Amendment, which says state funds may not go to the support of religious institutions.

The secular party as well as many nones will be rejoicing throughout America tonight. Not only did they retain their coveted “separation of church and state,” they also landed the highest placeholder on their scorecard as president – even though he (Obama) only got a C. Hey, a win is a win. But what will this mean for the future of America?

Amendment 8, yes or no

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Amendment 8, a repeal of the Blaine Amendment, is on the Florida ballot for the November elections. If approved, it will give more money to Christian churches, and the Secular Coalition of America is in strong opposition.

“Florida might be required to fund religious entities even if they claim their religious beliefs won’t allow them to perform all of the services,” said the Coalition in a recent email newsletter. (The services “religious entities” may refuse to offer are abortions)

The Blaine Amendment restricts the state from giving financial aid to churches, even if they will be using the money for community service. The Coalition believes this is an adequate representation of separation of church and state.

The Orlando Sentinel reported:

Those supporting a “yes” vote on Amendment 8 say removing Blaine’s language will protect religious freedom and remove a sentence tainted by the politics and prejudices of the late 19th Century. Opponents [The Secular Coalition of America] call the measure an underhanded effort to expand school voucher programs and shift taxpayer funding from public to private schools.

The Blaine Amendment was named for James G. Blaine, Speaker for the U.S. House of Representatives, who first proposed the idea of restricting religious groups to the House in 1875.  While accepted by the House, it was dismissed by the Senate. But instead of dying there many states still adopted the amendments and they are now instituted in 37 states throughout America.

Many Christian churches and organizations in Florida are eager for the installment of Amendment 8 and the repeal of the Blaine Amendment. The repeal would give them the opportunity to participate in public events, programs and giving service to their community.

Garcia-Tunon of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL) said:

Amendment 8 eliminates discrimination against churches and religious institutions that have long provided vital social services to many of Florida’s most needy at a time when funding for those services is in jeopardy. It makes no sense whatsoever to have service providers banned from the public square simply because they are religious.

Americans United, a group dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state, is urging Floridians to vote no to Amendment 8.

The goal of Amendment 8 is to allow taxpayer money to flow to religious schools and houses of worship. Passage of the Amendment would strip the religious freedom protections currently enshrined in the Florida Constitution, thus allowing for the direct funding of religious organizations that provide faith-based social services and opening the door to taxpayer funding vouchers for religious schools.

This viscous battle goes all the way up to previous Florida Governor Jeb Bush who is a promoter of Amendment 8. Bush is respected on both sides of the party line, so his opinion should, and probably does, mean something to a lot of people. Even so, a lot of support has been given on the other side of the argument. One opposition to the ballet is the Vote No on 8 committee which has raised about 1$ million in their fight against Amendment 8.

But, is it ever a good idea for religion to be controlled by the state. The Blaine Amendment was born out of religious discrimination, primarily towards Catholic schools. In today’s world this hindrance of religious freedom not only places government in a position of power over the church, but also inhibits religious organizations from giving to public services. Is the skepticism toward the church so great that it’s work in the community is put under the microscope?

In a Say Yes On 8 press statement,  Garcia-Tunon said that:

 Services provided by faith-based organizations benefit all segments of society: religious hospitals and clinics that provide Medicaid services, elder care and indigent care; substance abuse programs; hospice care; housing assistance for the disabled or homeless; soup kitchen and food programs; prison outreach and disaster relief services; HIV prevention services and certain college and K-12 scholarship programs.

Garcia went on to say:

These are by no means luxuries, but services meeting the basic needs of many Floridians. This is a two-fold opportunity to do what is right in a manner that is consistent with the faithful citizenship of CALL and its membership.