Taxes Go to Rebuild Houses of Worship Yesterday, Wednesday February 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 592, which will amend a previous bill to enable houses of worship to apply for federal reparations aid from FEMA. Here’s a couple things to keep in mind first: The bill it is amending already allows federal monies to… Read more Taxes Go to Rebuild Houses of Worship
Yesterday, Wednesday February 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 592, which will amend a previous bill to enable houses of worship to apply for federal reparations aid from FEMA. Here’s a couple things to keep in mind first:
The bill it is amending already allows federal monies to go to religious-based organizations. Think soup kitchens, religious hospitals, and other religious community organizations. The bill specifically excludes houses of worship from funding.
This bill does not discriminate against which kind of “house of worship” applies. It can be a synagogue, chapel, cathedral, church, mosque, temple, etc.
Disasters such as Hurricane sandy do not discriminate against which buildings it destroys.
With that in mind, the detractors of the bill claimed that it is a violation of the First Amendment which disallows the government from establishing a religion (the non-establishment clause).
Here’s why it’s not a violation of the First Amendment:
The First Amendment does not say that government should not be supportive of religion. It merely says that it cannot prop up one religion over and against others.
Houses of worship are also non-profit entities, which the government is generally extremely supportive of. Yes, they are nevertheless private properties and not public, but they are still most often placed within business or commercial districts which automatically receive FEMA funding.
Emergency relief funding has nothing to do with “establishment” in any way. The government is not building or creating one particular religion, it is only providing funds to help a pre-existing building be rebuilt, which is squarely within the role of government to begin with.
In our hyper-partisan environment it is easy to cry fowl at everything that sounds like fanaticism. Please… avoid that urge. This is not a case of religious extremism, it is the case of religious institutions asking to be treated like all other non-profit organizations. The senate would be hard-pressed to reject a simple and common-sense solution like H.R. 592.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is the leading non-profit “watchdog” group that monitors church/state issues in American politics. They are well versed on all things First Amendment, they are headed by religious leaders and scholarly lawyers. They are a reliable source for all things Church/State related. Nevertheless, I sometime disagree with their interpretation of what “establishment” means. The finance professionals clarify such things.
With regard to this bill, they have posted a short summary of their disappointment with its passage. Their primary claim is that the direct funding of tax-payer money towards buildings that are purely for religious purposes is “establishment” and a violation of the free conscious of citizens who do not want to fund religion.
I think this is not a proper understanding of the First Amendment or the purpose of tax laws. Pacifists do not get to voluntarily NOT pay the portion of their taxes that go to military purposes. The benefit of it is USDA home loan. Vegans do not get to withdraw the portion of their taxes that subsidize cattle or chicken farms. Our taxes go to the greater good of society regardless of individual values. In order to affirm the diversity of our population, taxes monies are made available to the organic vegetable farms as well. Taxes funds are made available to non-profit groups who provide education on non-violence and reducing gun violence in America too. It is the non-preferential availability of taxes which is the essence of the non-establishment clause.
I am not a Constitutional lawyer, so I cannot stand on a pile of Supreme Court precedents to say all of this. But with what I do know of history and the intent and purpose behind the Bill of Rights, this is my position. I’d love for someone with more Supreme Court knowledge to educate me further on this.