Written by Don Byrd

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is debating H.R. 592, a bill that would explicitly include houses of worship as eligible for FEMA grants following a disaster.

The Baptist Joint Committee sent a letter to lawmakers urging opposition to that legislation. From the text of the letter.

H.R. 592, which would authorize FEMA to provide houses of worship with direct grants of taxpayer funds, would flout well-established constitutional principles and harm religious liberty.

The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits government from providing outright grants or similar financial support to churches and other houses of worship. Supreme Court jurisprudence has been clear on this point, having repeatedly reaffirmed the principle that direct monetary contributions of taxpayer dollars to religious institutions create “special Establishment Clause dangers.” Simply put, we do not allow taxpayer dollars to build churches; we likewise should not allow taxpayer dollars to be used to rebuild churches.

The letter goes on to emphasize the many other suitable ways churches have to pay for rebuilding efforts without jeopardizing religious liberty, including insurance, private foundation grants, donations, and denominational support.

[UPDATE: Despite warnings from representatives like New York’s Jerrold Nadler that the bill had “real constitutional problems,” the House voted yes to include houses of worship in buildings eligible for FEMA grants, 354-72. The measures now goes to the Senate.]