It’s good that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows businesses to borrow money from the U.S. government in order to cover costs (including salaries) during the pandemic without having to repay those loans at a later date.
The bill specifically includes non-profits as businesses, which isn’t usually the case.
However there’s no reason churches should be allowed to make use of these funds if that money involves the promotion of religion. The government shouldn’t be paying pastors’ salaries or paying workers to keep up with their proselytizing.
Andrew Seidel, author of The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, writes at Religion Dispatches why this would be an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money:
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.
The law is already clear on this. SBA loans cannot be given to “Businesses principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting.”
And yet the SBA has already said the opposite:
“Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services,” the SBA said in a statement. “No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”
Last week, a coalition of eight groups — including American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, the Center For Inquiry, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the Secular Coalition for America — sent a letter to the administrator of the SBA, Jovita Carranza, reminding her of what the law says despite Christian Nationalists trying to convince the government such loans to churches would be legal:
While we understand that you may believe it necessary to clarify some of the regulations outlined above to permit loans to religious organizations, we urge you to keep in place prohibitions on loans to places of worship and other nonprofits “principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting,” to ensure that these programs operate in accordance with constitutional requirements.
That’s not true, but you can bet they’ll do everything they can to feed their base. Unfortunately if there’s a lawsuit over this, it’s possible the right-leaning courts will allow direct funding of religion through a program that’s theoretically secular on the surface — especially since it would be all but impossible to find someone with legal standing to claim “injury” by a pastor getting taxpayer money.
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