By now we’re all accustomed to wasteful government spending, but it’s gone even farther with the most recent version of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018—which sets aside federal funding for the repair of churches, even if they provide no secular services.
The bill, which provides a further two years of government spending, largely by increasing spending once more, includes an amendment (on page 49) that gives the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds solely for the rebuilding of churches following a natural disaster.
On page 49 of the bill, there’s an amendment that would allow Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to rebuild churches after a natural disaster:
“(C) RELIGIOUS FACILITIES. — A church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship, educational facility, or any other private nonprofit facility, shall be eligible for contributions under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility. No house of worship, educational facility, or any other private nonprofit facility may be excluded from receiving contributions under paragraph (1)(B) because leadership or membership in the organization operating the house of worship is limited to persons who share a religious faith or practice.”
Of course, this isn’t a new proposal. After Hurricane Harvey’s massive damages, three churches sued FEMA after they were deemed ineligible for taxpayer funds to rebuild their churches. Never mind, of course, that churches don’t pay taxes, and these particular churches didn’t provide any secular services. And just ignore the fact that churches that provide secular services (such as serving as a homeless shelter during a natural disaster or in the aftermath of one) are already reimbursed for damages if they can be connected with a secular service.
And never mind that FEMA had already changed its policies last month to allow for monies to go to churches that don’t provide any secular services, making this provision in the bill unnecessary—unless, of course, conservatives are trying to make state funding of churches permanent.
People paying attention are pissed.
Larry Decker, of the Secular Coalition for America, called the move “unconstitutional and unconscionable“:
“This bill would rebuild churches by knocking down the wall of separation between church and state. Contrary to the religious right’s talking points, houses of worship can already be reimbursed for any costs they incur while providing relief and assistance during natural disasters. This provision hidden in the Bipartisan Budget Act would give churches a special entitlement to taxpayer money by requiring FEMA to fund the reconstruction of religious facilities. It is unconstitutional and unconscionable for Congress to decree that churches are entitled to taxpayer funding. The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to decide for themselves what religious institutions, if any, they support with their money. If Congress votes to put FEMA in the business of building churches, it will violate this core constitutional principle and compromise the very foundation of our secular government.”
In the face of such absurdity, what recourse do you have? You can certainly contact your members of Congress. Even if they’re unlikely to listen, you can still make your voice heard.
Of course, given how many people are upset about this bill, it’s entirely likely Republicans will try and pass it as fast as they can—all the more reason to speak up now.
h/t: Friendly Atheist