For more than 200 years, congregants have been responsible for the construction and repair of houses of worship. Now there’s a move afoot to shift some of that responsibility to taxpayers. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Congress is trying to rewrite federal rules to allow houses of worship to receive direct Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to pay for storm-related repairs.
The hurricane was devastating, but we mustn’t let that become an excuse to ignore basic constitutional principles. Church-state separation protects the right of taxpayers to support only the religious institutions of their choice, and it ensures the independence and integrity of faith communities. Houses of worship exist primarily to teach the tenets of their religion. They should be supported by donations, not government subsidies. Houses of worship should rely on private insurance and low-interest loans to meet their needs – not money taken from the taxpayer.
H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Here are some resources that explain why the Senate should reject the bill:
Baptist Joint Committee statement
Baptists Today News Journal statement
Interfaith Alliance statement
American Civil Liberties Union statement
Secular Coalition for America statement
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) statement
Rev. Mark Lukens of the Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway argues that preventing the entanglement of religion and government protects religion more than it does government.
"When we take money from the government for our houses of worship for purely religious purposes, essentially what we are doing is we are allowing ourselves to be co-opted," he says.
It's like in the Gospel of Luke, he adds, when Satan offers Jesus the Kingdom of the World, and Jesus says, "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."
"We're supposed to be a moral voice in the public square," Lukens says, "and if we're receiving funds from the government, then that can neutralize that ability to be a moral voice. You can't bite the hand that feeds you, so to speak."
--NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Feb. 8, 2013