Saturday, February 16, 2013

House OKs Funding to Rebuild Churches

On Wednesday, Feb. 13, the House quietly passed HR 592, a serious threat to the separation of religion and government. The bill aims to amend the Disaster Relief Act to permanently allow federal grant money to go directly to rebuild churches and other houses of worship after disasters.

This change would reverse a longstanding 60-year policy in regards to federal disaster relief. Such funding would clearly violate the Constitutional separation of church and state by forcing taxpayers to fund religious groups and sects with which they may not agree. Worse, this bill specifically was intended to provide an exclusive funding privilege to religious organizations that most other non-religious nonprofits do not and would not enjoy even with the signing of this bill into law.

Churches may seem disadvantaged at first glance, but they are not without access to government aid. Along with most non-profits, they are in fact eligible for SBA loans. Churches, as do other non-profit organizations, also have existing fundraising advantages not available to commercial enterprises and individuals through their tax-exempt status and through the deductibility of contributions provided to the non-profit organizations by their own supporters.  Federal disaster relief is intended primarily for organizations and individuals that do not have such advantages.

Many of the House Representatives from the Los Angeles and Ventura Counties area supported this bill, even in the face of First-Amendment concerns brought to them by Americans United and other church-state separation groups.  Here is the list of local Representatives that supported this bill:

CD24 Rep. Lois Capps (D) CD25 Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R)
CD26 Rep. Julia Brownley (D) CD28 Rep. Adam Schiff (D)
CD29 Rep. Tony Cardenas (D) CD30 Rep. Brad Sherman (D)
CD31 Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D) CD32 Rep. Henry Waxman (D)
CD36 Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D)

This bill has not yet been considered by the Senate. We urge all AU-GLA chapter members to contact your Congressional representative and your state's senators and let them know your opinion on this issue. You can find out how your representative voted and send a letter of thanks or disappointment.