The Freedom From Religion Foundation is adamantly opposing a provision in a pending congressional bill that would force taxpayers to repair houses of worship.
The U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, or H.R. 4460, which includes a provision to add houses of worship as eligible recipients of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, despite longstanding agency policy prohibiting this use. If passed, Section 211 of this law would instruct FEMA to disburse federal taxpayer funds to repair houses of worship following a natural disaster.
This bill has the potential to devastate a foundational protection of religious liberty in this country, FFRF notes. The government should not force citizens to financially support houses of worship using its coercive taxing power. This is true even if those churches have been hit by a hurricane.
FFRF's Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel explained in a recent article why churches should not receive public money.
"This is a central tenet of the constitutional separation between state and church," Seidel wrote. "The coercive taxing power of the government can't oblige Muslims to bankroll temples and yeshivas, compel Jews to subsidize churches and Catholic schools or force Christians to fund mosques and madrassas. The idea is simple: Let the faithful voluntarily support their faith."
Section 211 of H.R. 4460 slips language from a failed bill earlier this year, which FFRF helped to fight, into a new, much larger FEMA bill. Section 211 would violate the rights of conscience and religious freedom rights of all citizens, which, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, is "sinful and tyrannical."
The compulsory support of a religion or god that is not your own is anathema to American principles, reminds FFRF. Supporters of this bill seem to forget that it is not only Christian churches that will get taxpayer funds. Every sect will be clamoring for federal dollars, including The Satanic Temple and Scientologists.
"We thought these constitutional issues were settled a long time back in our history," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Many of our ancestors fled to this continent precisely to avoid being forced to pay tithes or taxes to support religions in which they disbelieved."
The founders wisely chose to cut off all public funding for the construction and repair of churches. This history seems distant today, but the rule was bred of millennia of oppression by religion blended with government. Thanks to the separation of state and church, we are free of that oppression. As a result, Americans may have a certain level of complacency and fail to understand that these provisions actually protect and foster religious freedom.
H.R. 4460 is currently on the House floor, having passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The bill is long and covers many aspects of FEMA, but Section 211 would include churches as FEMA recipients. FFRF strongly opposes this provision and urges the House to reject H.R. 4460 until Section 211 is removed.