It’s unconstitutional to bail out churches, FFRF and others remind senator

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and other religious freedom watchdog organizations are informing a prominent senator that it is against the Constitution to bail out religious entities — even in the current crisis.

American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and Secular Coalition for America are correcting Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s tweeted claim that “the SBA [Small Business Administration] is WRONGLY telling churches and lenders that churches and religious nonprofits don’t qualify for the new #COVID19 relief program.”

“Sen. Hawley could not be more mistaken,” says Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists. “He should review the guidance we provided to SBA to better understand how key constitutional principles like church-state separation apply to this legislation.”

On Tuesday, March 31, a group of eight civil rights and religious freedom organizations sent a letter to SBA urging the agency to respect existing regulations and the Constitution.

“Taxpayers cannot be forced to fund churches, even in a pandemic,” comments FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel. “The Small Business Administration must include some constitutional protections in its coming emergency regulations to implement the CARES Act to ensure that American taxpayers will not be footing the bill for church mortgages and preachers’ salaries.”

Other freethought organizations agree.

“The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Small Business Administration’s own long-standing rules are clear,” says Nicholas Little, Vice President and General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry. “The government may not use taxpayer money to directly fund religious activities.”

SBA’s policies prevent “businesses principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counselling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting” from being eligible for business loans and for economic disaster loans.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., promised in a call on March 19 with the Christian Nationalist organization Florida Family Policy Council a “cash injection” from the stimulus bill to churches. The following day in a separate call, Vice President Mike Pence assured Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that “we most certainly are” concerned about the economic impact on churches.

“The Trump Administration is not only handling this crisis irresponsibly, it’s selling out the American people,” says Casey Brink, Director of Policy & Government Affairs for the Secular Coalition for America. “For every single dollar churches get their hands on, that’s one dollar less for a small business owner. It’s disgraceful.”

The negative consequences of the White House’s indulgence toward churches are manifold — and serious.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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