A few months ago, when the seriousness of the pandemic was finally making itself known, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowing 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.
That also meant churches were eligible for the funding… meaning they could receive millions of dollars that went directly to promoting religion.
Yesterday, after putting up a fight, the Trump administration finally released the list of which organizations received more than $150,000 in funding. Groups receiving amounts less than that were not identified by name.
Some of the information wasn’t surprising. The American Humanist Association and American Atheists received between $150,000 – $350,000. (The data only gives the range.) A larger loan of $350,000 – $1,000,000 was given to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Center For Inquiry. None of that is weird; they are all non-profits with staffs that need to be paid. For what it’s worth, those were the only “atheist” groups I could find on the list, though I may have missed some.
Churches, on the other hand, took full advantage of the program.
By American Atheists’ estimate, houses of worship walked away with between $6-10 billion — with a “b” — in aid.
American Atheists has identified a minimum of between $3.5 and $7 billion in forgivable loans of $150,000 or more that have gone to specific houses of worship. The Trump Administration’s decision to only release broad ranges of loan amounts makes it difficult to be more precise. For houses of worship receiving loans of less than $150,000, American Atheists found that they were awarded at least $2.7 billion, putting the church bailout total at between an estimated $6.2 and $9.7 billion at a minimum. While funds awarded under PPP are structured as loans, the fact that they are 100% forgivable makes these payments, in effect, grants to the funded businesses and organizations.
“Due to the Trump Administration’s unwillingness to provide full disclosure, we have had to work with limited data. Yet the picture is clear: this is an unprecedented giveaway to religious organizations,” said Alison Gill, Vice President of Legal and Policy at American Atheists.
In addition, American Atheists estimated that another $4 to $8 billion of taxpayer money has gone to private schools, most of which are religious.
“In two months, the Trump Administration has given churches and religious schools more money than double the CDC’s annual budget of $6.5 billion,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “If that doesn’t make it crystal clear what this administration’s priorities are, nothing will.”
Professor Ryan P. Burge also found that four churches received more than $5 million apiece. (He appears to have missed the ministry of televangelist Joyce Meyer, which also received more than $5 million.)
The First Baptist Church of Dallas, run by MAGA cultist Pastor Robert Jeffress and which Mike Pence visited last week, received between $2 million and $5 million.
Given the Supreme Court’s stance that otherwise-neutral government grant programs cannot exclude religious organizations, this is all but impossible to fight in court. But voters should be furious. Far from helping businesses struggling because of the virus, these loans have been giant cash grab for religious institutions who now have more cash on hand to promote their superstitions. The wall of separation between church and state is crumbling so badly, it needs an overhaul.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)