Freethinkers Urged to Flood HUD with Protests During Public Comment Period

Fiat on Faith-Based Initiatives an Unparalleled Raid on Public Till

A proposal to grant federal money to build places of worship would be a death blow to the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Bush Administration’s scheme would allow public money to build or reconstruct churches and other religious structures–so long as any part of the building is also used for social services.”

“Under the proposed regulations, it would be difficult to find a church, mosque or synagogue that would not be eligible for federal dollars,” pointed out Foundation president Anne Gaylor. “Imagine the drain to taxpayers and the needy!”

“Pres. Bush is turning on its head more than 200 years of traditional respect for the constitutional principle of separation of church and state,” Gaylor added, in urging the members of her organization to strenuously object during the public comment period through March 7.

“It is time to take true alarm, time for the public to weigh in on this issue and reject this proposal.” The proposal would also remove requirements that religious organizations receiving HUD funding “provide assurances that they will conduct eligible program activities in a manner that is ‘free from religious influences.’ ” The proposed regulation states that this is “unfair” since secular entities are not required to make such a pledge.

The regulations offer no guidelines on the extent of social service use that would make a church eligible for funding. Instead, officials indicate funding would be decided case-by-case. The proposal declares any place of worship would be eligible for public-funded construction “where a structure is used for both eligible and inherently religious activities.”

“If a church lets a support group for single mothers meet in a lounge once a week, would it be eligible for tax dollars if it wishes to enlarge or improve a room that benefits the church 99% of the time? The scenarios for abuse are endless,” Gaylor said. The process would be rife with opportunities for political corruption, for public officials to funnel money to the congregation or denomination of their choice, and for powerful churches to lobby for public funding in exchange for mustering political support from their congregations.

Foundation spokesman Dan Barker said the Administration is “bypassing the 3 C’s”: “Court precedent, Congress, and the Constitution.” The courts have never permitted such a breach, he said. “Nor has Congress been consulted. Once again Bush has promoted this radical departure from the status quo through fiat, not democratic processes.”

At the heart of Bush’s argument is his claim that the government has been “discriminating” against churches, said Barker, a former minister. But he pointed out that the churches themselves discriminate–in dogma, practice, and employment. “The Establishment Clause absolutely requires that churches be treated differently from secular entities, because their basis for existence is to propound doctrine and dogma, which the government may not do.”

He pointed to Thomas Jefferson’s famous Virginia statute for religious freedom, with its guarantee that no citizen may be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, wording which was adopted in many state constitutions. “Our founders were absolutely opposed to the idea that citizens could ever be taxed to support a place of worship.”

Religion already gets the credit for charities that taxpayers get the bill for, he added. Although some homeless shelters are housed in churches, it is often county governments that pick up the bill, including rent for use of the religious facility. It is foreseeable that churches, already well-paid for serving the public, could invoke such use of their building to construct new buildings or additions at taxpayer expense, thus double-billing the government for services rendered.

“What is also being forgotten is that any public subsidy religious groups receive frees up their coffers to promote religion. Any such subsidy inevitably ends up being government support of religion,” said Gaylor.

She pointed out churches already receive a major public subsidy–tax exemption. There is no practical difference between giving public money to a church outright, and failing to send them a tax bill, she added.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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