Yesterday afternoon the House passed H.R. 592, a bill allowing taxpayer money to go towards rebuilding of houses of worship by a vote of 354-72. Such funding would entangle religion and government by forcing taxpayers to fund religion with which they may not agree, violating the separation of church and state.
AU is pleased that members of Congress Jerrold Nadler and Bobby Scott made passionate speeches on the House floor prior to the vote, raising many of our concerns. We even had bipartisan support with six Republicans voting no: Amash (MI), Duncan (SC), Gosar (AZ), Labrador (ID), Stutzman (IN), and Woodall (GA).
We understand the desire to help those in need, especially in the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy. But even in challenging times, the government should adhere to the Constitution and the principle of church-state separation. Although it may not seem easy in times of tragedy to tell those seeking aid that they are ineligible for government grants, the bar on the government rebuilding of houses of worship is an important limitation that exists to protect religious freedom for all. Even in times of trouble, we must still adhere to the Constitution.
We are disappointed that the House passed this bill, and it was equally disappointing that so much misinformation was put forth on the floor before the vote. Many claimed that current law discriminated against houses of worship because they are religious, but most non-religious nonprofits also do not qualify for government funding. These institutions may seem disadvantaged, but they are not without access to government aid: along with most non-profits, they are in fact eligible for SBA loans. Houses of worship are not outliers.
Others cited flawed legal arguments that try to discredit longstanding constitutional law. But, Supreme Court precedent stands firm that the government cannot pay to construct, rebuild, or maintain houses of worship.
Find out how your representative voted and send a letter of thanks or disappointment.