Unacceptable, Unconstitutional, UnAmerican: In a clear violation of the separation of church and state, the Trump administration will use taxpayer money to bail out churches and pay pastor salaries.
In a development that could challenge the Constitution’s prohibition of any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” the federal government will soon provide money directly to U.S. churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills.
A key part of the $2 trillion economic relief legislation enacted last month includes about $350 billion for the Small Business Administration to extend loans to small businesses facing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus shutdown orders. Churches and other faith-based organizations, classified as “businesses,” qualify for aid under the program, even if they have an exclusively religious orientation.
In a statement about the issue, the Small Business Administration said:
Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services. No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.
Noting that “there’s a good chance that American taxpayers will be footing the bill for church mortgages and preachers’ salaries,” Andrew Seidel, writing for Religion Dispatches, opines:
The government’s taxing power should not be wielded to oblige Muslims to bankroll temples, or to coerce Jews to subsidize Christian and Catholic churches, or to force Christians to fund mosques, or to compel the nonreligious to support any of the above. One of this country’s first religious freedom laws warned that taxing citizens and giving the money to churches is “sinful and tyrannical.” The right to be free from that compulsion is the bedrock of religious liberty.
Of course Seidel is correct. It is outrageous to think that the current administration would sink so low as to violate the separation of church and state and trash the U.S. Constitution, but here we are.
Indeed, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
In fact, many reasonable people are raising the alarm about the decidedly unconstitutional and unAmerican plan to use government funds to support religious institutions. For example:
“The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Small Business Administration’s own long-standing rules are clear. The government may not use taxpayer money to directly fund religious activities.”
– Nicholas Little, Vice President and General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry
“The government cannot directly fund inherently religious activities. It can’t spend government tax dollars on prayer, on promoting religion [or] proselytization. That directly contradicts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This is the most drastic attack on church-state separation we have ever seen.”
– Alison Gill, legal and policy vice president of American Atheists
“The Trump Administration is not only handling this crisis irresponsibly, it’s selling out the American people. For every single dollar churches get their hands on, that’s one dollar less for a small business owner. It’s disgraceful.”
– Casey Brink, Director of Policy & Government Affairs for the Secular Coalition for America
Bottom line: In a deplorable development the Trump administration plans to violate the U.S. Constitution and use taxpayer funds to bail out churches and pay pastor salaries.