Written by Don Byrd

In the latest issue of the Baptist Joint Committee’s Report From the Capital, BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman discusses the issue of federal emergency grants for churches. If you have been following the blog, you know that FEMA recently changed its policy to allow such direct funding, overturning a longstanding rule barring taxpayer funds from being used to rebuild houses of worship out of concern for the separation of church and state.

As Holly explains why important principles of religious freedom call on government to refrain from building religious spaces. Here is an excerpt:

When government money goes to churches, the Constitution demands safeguards to protect our religious liberty, especially to avoid government funding of religious activities. The Court’s narrowly crafted decision in Trinity Lutheran Church maintains the prohibition on government-funded religious activity, which would certainly be implicated if the government funds the construction of buildings dedicated to religious use.

…A few years ago when arsonists destroyed several African-American churches, the Muslim community raised thousands of dollars to help them rebuild. Such was their free choice. Then and now, the government should not force Americans to build sacred spaces for others.

It is not clear that the proponents of government funding for churches appreciate the practical concerns that will arise and undercut religious liberty. With government money comes government control. That was certainly a concern in the founding era, and in this era of government it is reasonable that when the government funds churches, it will have something to say about how that money is spent. With increased demand and limited government funding, the new rule also puts FEMA in a position to decide which churches among those that have been damaged or destroyed receive government money. That will undoubtedly raise concerns about government favoritism.

When a natural disaster strikes, it’s understandable why at first glance taxpayers may want to help rebuild fallen churches. But if concerns over government control, government favoritism, and forced taxpayer funding of religion are the result, we should resist. 

Read the whole thing.