FFRF urges Biden admin. to drop SBA church funding

Preying Hands Addis

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is formally asking the Biden administration not to adopt Trump-era regulations allowing for the unprecedented funneling of taxpayer money to religious institutions.

The national state/church watchdog is conveying its formal objections to the public bailouts of churches during the pandemic to the Small Business Administration during the public comment period ending this Friday, Feb. 12.

If the SBA proposals to continue church bailouts are finalized, these would permanently remove critical provisions that ensure tax dollars don’t fund businesses if they are “principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting.” FFRF highlights three major flaws in the removal of these essential safeguards.

First, giving taxpayer funds to houses of worship clearly violates the First Amendment.

“The SBA’s proposed rules to remove the prohibition against granting funds for religious purposes amount to a mandatory tithe on every citizen,” FFRF maintains. “The government’s coercive taxing power should not be wielded to oblige Muslims to bankroll temples, to coerce Jews to subsidize Christian and Catholic churches, to force Christians to fund mosques, or to compel the nonreligious to support any of the above.”

Second, FFRF maintains, wherever taxpayer funds go, there must be accountability and transparency.

Unlike other 501(c)(3) nonprofits, churches file no financial information with the IRS and the public, making them financial black holes. Because they lack financial transparency and accountability, churches are already rife with fraud and abuse. Institutions that lack any accountability to the American people should not be funded by taxpayer dollars.

Lastly, FFRF contends, public money must not be used to fund discrimination.

Current SBA regulations require that recipients of SBA loans "reflect to the fullest extent possible the nondiscrimination policies of the federal government.” However, the entity has also issued guidance casting aside these protections, stating that “no faith-based organization will be excluded from receiving funding because . . . employment by the organization is limited to persons who share its religious faith and practice.” This guidance incorrectly portrays the religious exemption as significantly broader than SBA’s regulations. Treating religious belief as a license to discriminate violates the First Amendment.

From the start of the pandemic, the Trump administration exploited economic relief programs to unconstitutionally fund houses of worship with billions in taxpayer money. As soon as the initial interim rule allowing Paycheck Protection Program funds to go to churches was implemented, FFRF warned it violated the First Amendment and would open the door for widespread misuse of taxpayer dollars.

A bombshell recent Associated Press report exposes the ongoing abuse of taxpayer funds going to the Catholic Church. According to AP, “scores of Catholic dioceses across the U.S. received aid through the Paycheck Protection Program while sitting on well over $10 billion in cash, short-term investments or other available funds.”

If the proposed SBA rules are finalized, this boondoggle will continue indefinitely and any number of new avenues for churches to siphon public money will emerge.

“The Trump administration trampled longstanding rules and raided taxpayer pocketbooks to ensure its religious base received colossal handouts,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Biden administration must ensure these unconstitutional subsidies are not allowed to continue.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,500 members and many chapters across the country. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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