U.S. Capitol

Group says proposed FEMA grants would harm religious liberty

WASHINGTON – The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has asked Members of the U.S. House to oppose a bill that would violate religious liberty by authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide direct grants to houses of worship. The bill is scheduled to be discussed on the House floor at noon today.

In a letter to Members, the BJC said H.R. 592, “would flout well-established constitutional principles and harm religious liberty.”

The letter reminded House members that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause “prohibits government from providing outright grants or similar financial support to churches and other houses of worship,” and that the Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed the principle that direct contributions of tax dollars to religious institutions creates “special Establishment Clause dangers.”

“The damage wrought upon the Northeast by Hurricane Sandy is an instance in which our moral and humanitarian instincts may seem at odds with the constitutional requirement of no-establishment,” the BJC letter stated. Repairs, the BJC wrote, may be financed by others, including private foundation grants and contributions of the faithful. Also, “churches and houses of worship may be eligible to obtain low-interest, long-term loans under the Small Business Administration disaster loan program for damages not covered by insurance.”

 In its letter, the BJC said when we, as citizens of faith, respond to a natural disaster “using voluntary, private donations, we reflect the very best of America’s longstanding commitment to religious liberty for all.”

“It is simply not a good idea—however our heartstrings are tugged— to give churches access to the public till,” the letter stated.

Click here to view a pdf of the complete text of the letter sent to Members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Click here to download a pdf of the complete text of the letter sent to Members of the U.S. House of Representatives.