Earlier this week, the government released a list of who received more than $150,000 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That money, part of the Paycheck Protection Program, was meant to help businesses pay staffers and cover expenses during this time when so many people are out of work.
The money also extended to non-profit groups (despite them not paying taxes) because they, too, have staffers who may be struggling to make ends meet. And then, controversially, religious institutions were also included in the mix. Even though churches are non-profits, they don’t have to be transparent with their finances and there’s therefore no way to find out how the PPP loans are being used.
A lot of church/state separation groups spoke out against that preferential treatment when the plan was initially on the table. Those complaints have picked up steam this week ever since we found out how billions of dollars went to religious institutions.
Now look at how the Christian Post is covering the story. The headline reads: “Secular group critical of churches taking PPP loans admits to also taking under $500K.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which has been critical of churches being among the recipients of forgivable loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, admitted that it, too, took a loan “of less than half a million dollars” after a partial list of borrowers was released this week.
The admission by the atheist group, which has said it’s “unconstitutional” for religious groups to receive taxpayer funds, came the day after the Small Business Administration released the partial list of borrowers.
The Post also notes what I said earlier, which is that a handful of atheist groups received six-figure loans from the government.
But this article is framed as a “gotcha,” as if the reporter caught atheists being hypocrites. What the Post neglects to point out is that, under IRS rules, atheist non-profits are not in the same category as religious non-profits.
Put more simply, the government sees FFRF the same way it sees Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association. All those groups have to play by the same rules, and they have to fill out the same paperwork each year. Religious groups, on the other hand, are in a class of their own. They don’t have to say how much money they took in, or how much the pastors make.
So there’s nothing hypocritical about what the atheist groups did! You can absolutely argue that religious groups shouldn’t be eligible for the funds while accepting PPP loans yourself.
American Atheists’ President Nick Fish made this point on Twitter:
We have not been critical of bona fide 501(c)(3) groups receiving money, even if they're religious. While we find groups like Alliance Defending Freedom reprehensible, they're not financial black boxes nor do they conduct inherently religious activities like houses of worship. https://t.co/LdskWQopY4
— Nick Fish (@NotNickFish) July 11, 2020
He’s making a fair point here! American Atheists criticized churches receiving PPP loans, but they never said religious non-profits (even ones they fundamentally disagree with) should be ineligible. See? No hypocrisy!
So passage like this…
In June, when FFRF asked for “all records of any taxpayer funds flowing to Trump’s most vocal Christian Nationalist supporters, including every member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board and their churches,” it did not disclose having received a PPP loan while issuing a statement.
… are not gotchas. FFRF was eligible for funding just like every other non-profit, religious or otherwise.
It’s utterly irresponsible for the Christian Post to publish an article like this that suggests a major scoop when it’s a complete nothingburger.