WASHINGTON (ABP) — The U.S. House of Represen-tatives overwhelmingly ap-proved a bill Feb. 13 to allow houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy to receive disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, despite warnings by advocacy groups that the measure flouts the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
House members voted 354-72 for HR 592, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013.
The Baptist Joint Commit-tee for Religious Liberty was among groups making last-ditch efforts to ask members of Congress to think twice before passing legislation that could have serious consequences for religious liberty.
“The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits government from providing outright grants or similar financial support to churches and other houses of worship,” BJC Staff Counsel Nan Futrell wrote in the letter.
Futrell said the Supreme Court has clearly stated that direct monetary contributions of taxpayer dollars to religious institutions create “special Establishment Clause dangers.”
“Simply put, we do not allow taxpayer dollars to build churches,” she wrote. “We likewise should not allow taxpayer dollars to be used to rebuild churches."
Futrell said the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast United States presents an instance where “moral and humanitarian instincts” may seem at odds with the Constitution’s ban on the establishment of religion.
She said natural disasters and other times of crisis “serve as a call to action for citizens of faith,” but the public is best served when those calls are answered using voluntary and private contributions.
Bob Allen ([email protected]) is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.