Please contact your U.S. Senator today and tell him or her to vote against the Senate version of House Resolution 592.
The federal government is perilously close to using your tax dollars to directly fund the building, maintenance and repair of "houses of worship," including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, passed the U.S. House in early February by a lopsided 354 to 72 vote — after strong lobbying by Roman Catholic and even Jewish groups.
Congress has appropriated $60 billion to finance recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy. The House has voted to use your tax dollars to fund the repair or rebuilding of churches without regard to their exclusive use as houses of worship. That would mean less money for individuals who lost their homes. Funds would go to untaxed entities that never report or divulge any of their financial assets to the public or the federal government. Congress would be sending your tax dollars down a religious black hole, when people are in dire need.
Hurricane Sandy (ironically a so-called "Act of God" which did not spare houses of worship) must not be used to justify creating horrific legal precedent. Sandy's devastation is not a reason to suspend the Constitution. We cannot allow Congress to ignore the protections of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has specifically stated that our government may not erect religious buildings, Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 672, 683 (1971), and "[i]f the State may not erect buildings in which religious activities are to take place, it may not maintain such buildings or renovate them when they fall into disrepair." Comm. For Pub. Ed. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 777 (1973).
If enacted, this Congressional bill would allow funds to go to the Roman Catholic Church — which owns almost $3.5 billion worth of property in New York City, according to one estimate. About 200 parishes were affected by the storm, and Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan has been pushing particularly hard to get the bill passed. This bill sets the precedent to allow funds to go to all religious groups, including, as has been observed, to the most hateful bigots, such as the Westboro Baptist Church.
As the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy notes:
"FEMA's policy not only ensures that FEMA grants are used to rebuild facilities that provide the most critical services to the entire community, but also reflects an important constitutional principle. Religious liberty is one of our nation's most fundamental values and it starts from the precept that religion and religious institutions thrive when both religion and government are safeguarded from the undue influences of the other."
You and we must stop this bill before it becomes a law, before the funds are dispersed. Make sure your senators hear from you on this issue.
CONTACT YOUR SENATORS
Phone and email your two U.S. senators today!
Find contact information for your two senators here (listed by state):
Your voice is magnified by speaking out early. Be sure to identify yourself as a constituent, and leave your name and address. If you have time, both phoning and emailing is most effective, including your Senator's home and DC offices. Phone calls are immediate and take up staff time; the more (civil) calls they receive, the better.
Phone 202-224-3121 and ask an operator at the Capitol switchboard to connect you to your senator.
See above, use your own words, or feel free to cut and paste any of this brief statement into an email:
I strongly oppose H.R. 592 and urge you to defeat it in the Senate. This bill would send tax dollars down a religious black hole, and create precedent endangering tax dollars and the Establishment Clause.
James Madison, the primary architect of our godless Constitution, famously opposed even "threepence" of taxpayer money going for religious purposes. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, pointed out that no citizen should "be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever." These are core principles safeguarding religious liberty and personal conscience, upon which our secular nation was founded.
FEMA does not "discriminate" against churches or other nonprofits when it properly declares them ineligible to receive direct grants for disaster relief. Nonprofits, churches and businesses are eligible to apply for major low-interest, government-secured loans for losses not fully covered by insurance. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow. Yet tax-exempt churches, no matter how wealthy, are uniquely exempted from federal requirements to report on their finances to the government and U.S. taxpayers. Churches exist for the purpose of worship. Any incidental disaster relief they engage in is voluntary, and not equivalent to providing "essential services of a governmental nature to the general public," as FEMA regulations require.
H.R. 592 would grant tax dollars to tax-exempt churches with no strings attached, "without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility." Tax dollars should not go to repair or build space for worship, much less repair stained-glass windows, arks of the convenant, prayer books and decorative religious icons! Defeat this proposal!
WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Further influence public opinion by writing letters to the editor to our local news dailies, using social media and leaving messages at reader comment sections at online news websites. Borrow any language you like from this action alert!
READ AND FOLLOW THE BILL
Text of bill (pdf)
(Note: you can sign up to track this bill, and receive notice of pending action. We urge you to follow developments and respond often and quickly if the bill proceeds in the Senate.)
See listing of statements against H.R. 592
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking for your help in persuading the School District of Pickens County Board of Trustees, S.C., to drop prayers to begin its monthly meetings.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the District on Nov. 26, 2012, protesting the school board's egregious practice of opening meetings with prayer led by students, which included sectarian references to the "Holy Spirit" and "Jesus."
(Our letter sent the religious community into a tizzy. Scroll to the end for links to TV news and other media coverage!)
At its Feb. 25, 2013 meeting, the Pickens County school board voted preliminarily to begin meetings with "nonsectarian" prayers by adults from the district. Elliott points out this new policy would still violate the rights of conscience of students and parents who are nonreligious or religious minorities.
Federal courts of appeals examining the issue of school board prayer have found such prayer — even nonsectarian — to be unconstitutional. As part of the public school system, school boards must set an example of respect and conform to law protecting children from the coercion of school-sponsored religion.
The Pickens County school board should get in line with the U.S. Constitution and stop alienating the 19 percent of American adults who have no religious affiliation. One in three young people today identify as nonreligious and one in five adults (Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, October 2012).
"Calling upon board members, as well as parents and students of the school, to pray is coercive, embarrassing, and beyond the scope of our secular school system," Elliott said.
The Pickens County Board of Trustees will meet next on Monday, March 25, 2013, to vote to finalize its policy of beginning each meeting with prayer.
Urge the board to follow the Constitution, and remove the divisive prayers from their meetings. (see Talking Points below)
Email a Letter to the Editor (via a comment box):
Feel free to use your own words or use or incorporate the statement below:
To avoid the constitutional concerns and the divisiveness school board prayers create, the solution is simple: discontinue them.
Nonsectarian prayer sends an inappropriate proselytizing message to all students, and excludes the nonreligious — the second-largest segment today in America by religious identification.
Calling upon school board members, students, parents and residents to pray is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of your secular public school district. Board of Education members are free to worship on their own time in their own way. Nonbelieving students and religious minorities should not be made to feel like political outsiders by their own school district. Nor should any school district send a message to students that they ought to believe in a deity or show obeisance to one.
I support a secular public school system.
Prayer issue packs Pickens co. school board meeting
(Watch this TV video to see an unbelievable "amen corner")
Attorney: non-sectarian prayer does not go far enough