House Bails Out Churches Damaged by Hurricane Sandy

||| CREDIT: Pete Souza, Whitehouse.govCREDIT: Pete Souza, Whitehouse.govWhen New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was earning media hi-fives last month for berating House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about holding up federal aid for Hurricane Sandy, my skeptical heart, shaped as it has been by Glenn Garvin's classic 1993 Reason piece on Hurricane Andrew, began wondering: What kind of unprecedented government overreach will this spigot bring?

Here's one example from today's New York Times–"House Approves Storm Aid for Religious Institutions":

The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow the use of federal money to rebuild churches and synagogues damaged by  Hurricane Sandy, despite concern that such aid could violate the doctrine of separation of church and state. [...]

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has generally refused to provide grants to rebuild houses of worship. In some cases, federal aid can be used to reimburse houses of worship for social services they provide, and houses of worship can sometimes qualify for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

The House bill adds houses of worship to the list of private nonprofit organizations eligible for disaster relief. Federal law already allows such aid to museums, zoos, performing-arts centers, libraries, homeless shelters and other private nonprofit entities that provide "essential services of a governmental nature to the general public."

The House bill would apply to property damaged by the storm and damage from future disasters.

Under the bill, "a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization," would be eligible for federal disaster assistance "without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility."

Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, the bill's chief sponsor, said, "It's unconscionable that pillars of our communities damaged by Sandy — synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and other houses of worship — have been categorically denied access to otherwise generally available relief funds."

And so it begins.

Read Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey on "Separating Church and State Money."

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    They should have slipped a Ground Zero mosque in there.

  • Randian||

    Hm, let's see - Christie is a rent-seeking, internet-gambling-vetoing New Jerseyan who hates "price gouging" and campaigned for Obama.

    What a winner.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved legislation

    Sick.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Leaving aside the wisdom of bailing out anyone, if you're going to do it, why would you categorically deny religious institutions while bailing out other privileged non-profits?

  • ||

    Because separation?

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Separation of what? Where does the Constitution mention "separating" churches?

  • Drake||

    I was on the board for our church. We buy insurance every year.

    Is this a bailout for insurance companies, or non-profits too stupid to buy insurance?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "Is this a bailout for insurance companies, or non-profits too stupid to buy insurance?"

    Non-profits too stupid to buy insurance. Those that bought insurance have already made their claims (and been paid in almost every instance). So the stupid can stand around and cry and get money - they just have to wait for the great slime engine of government to creak into motion and fill their outstretched hands.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Clearly, what we need is for the government to mandate that we be able to buy hazard insurance for pre-existing conditions without being charged higher rates.

  • db||

    I already have a bit of antipathy for nonprofits for a number of reasons, but failure to take basic preventive measures such as buying property insurance should call into question the competence of the management and board of any nonprofit. They should probably be fired at a minimum and possibly suffer personal liability for their malpractice.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    private nonprofit entities that provide "essential services of a governmental nature to the general public."

    What the fucking fuck?

    If I drive around randomly harassing and beating people (and shooting their dogs), does that qualify as a service of a governmental nature? I'll start today. Where's my check?

  • db||

    What about religions that don't need houses of worship? That don't worship, per se? Where's their bailout?

  • db||

    This is why the 1st Amendment prohibits laws "respecting an establishment of religion." It seems this law passed bely Congress is in direct violation of this provision.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    How is bailing out churches, synagogues, etc., along with other non-profits, making a law respecting establishment of religion?

  • db||

    I read "respecting" to mean "concerning."

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    How do you read "establishment"?

  • db||

    An organization that calls itself a religion is an establishment of religion. (Well, the CoS certainly hopes so ;) )

    Some might argue that 1A prohibits the gov from passing laws creating (establishing) a religion. I read it as prohibiting government from passing laws having anything to do with religion.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I take separation of church and state to mean their should be no laws concerning morality.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Some might argue that 1A prohibits the gov from passing laws creating (establishing) a religion. I read it as prohibiting government from passing laws having anything to do with religion.

    Well, since it's what the 1st actually says, I'd argue that the former is the correct reading. Further, reading the establishment clause as prohibiting Congress "from passing laws having anything to do with religion" makes the "free exercise" clause superfluous.

    If the 1st was meant to say "Congress can pass no laws having anything to do with religion" it probably would have said that.

  • db||

    Please provide your own definition of "establishment."

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    "Establishment," as it applies to religion, has to do with the government endorsement of a religion as the state religion. An "established church" is synonymous with "state church" or "official religion." Therefore, a law respecting establishment of religion would be a law establishing a state or official religion.

  • db||

    Perhaps you are confusing the meanings of the noun "establishment" and the gerund "establishing."

  • SIV||

    Classifying a church as specifically ineligible for reconstruction funds because it is owned by a religious institution would be a law having to do with religion.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    I think db is referring to his first point - this only applies to certain religious groups that have a building. They get some sort of recognition as providing "essential services of a governmental nature" and $.
    If you are part of a "gathered" ("where two or more believes gather under one roof...")church or such (Islamic group that has no mosque, so they rent out space in a hall somewhere) no bail out for you.

    But, I could be wrong on this.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Well, if you're bailing out people for damage to physical structures, you're kind of focused on people with physical structures.

    How do you bail out someone for damage to a building if they don't own a building and what does that have to do with religion, per se?

    If a non-profit rents a building and the owner is bailed out, it's the owner who is bailed out, not the renter.

  • db||

    Maybe, but I'm really saying 1A prohibits government from getting involved in any way with religion. At least that's what I like to think. Constitutional jurisprudence seems to disagree to some degree.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Well, jurisprudence and, more importantly, the actual text.

  • db||

    I don't see disagreement in the actual text. Perhaps you could explain.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Again, if the establishment clause means, as you claim, the government is prohibited from getting involved in any way with religion, why do you need the free exercise clause?

    As a matter of statutory construction, and straightforward reading, imo, a reading that renders a part of the statute moot or superfluous is an incorrect reading. If the establishment clause means "the government is prohibited from getting involved in any way with religion" then the free exercise clause is superfluous since the establishment clause has already ruled out messing with free exercise. Therefore, the actual text disagrees with your construction.

  • db||

    So is your argument that the 1st Amendment allows government to help any established religion but not to hinder it? I disagree, because the Bill of Rights and the Constitutiin are generally guarantees of negative liberty and establish limited scope for the lawful action of government. I see nothing in the Constitutiin or Bill of Rights authorizing the government to act in any way related to religion. The BoR does, however, prohibit very specifically government intervention in religion. The combination seems to to legally preclude government assisting or hindering religious organizations.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Here's a crazy idea.

    We could eliminate the "non-profit" special tax status altogether.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    No, we shouldn't. We should instead stop taxing businesses and instead tax income and net profits individuals make on investments... if there will be taxes at all.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    instead tax income and net profits individuals make on investments... if there will be taxes at all.

    At a low flat rate, I could live with this.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Even with that, I'd still like to see non-profits treated the same as any other business. Aside from income taxes and donations, non-profits in my state are exempt from property taxes and get special treatment under wage and hour laws among others.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Fuck property taxes and labor laws.

    In fact, I am part of an all volunteer non profit. It receives no benefits from the government except for not having money seized. Property taxes would kill it.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    All money the organization takes in is used for shit the organization does, which is mostly bills and capital expenses.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I'd still like to see non-profits treated the same as any other business. Aside from income taxes and donations, non-profits in my state are exempt from property taxes and get special treatment under wage and hour laws among others.

    Absolutely. If you (I'm looking at ALL you snake oil salesmen out there, from the Catholic Church to the Humane Society and the Red Cross) bring money in, you're not a NONPROFIT. Fuck you, you're a business enterprise and should be treated as such.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    It depends whether any member is making money off it or not.

  • ||

    I love that something affects New England and all of a sudden we need to tweak things to "help" people that never would have gotten help had it hit a Gulf state.

    (I'm not saying that houses of worship, etc. should have been given money after Katrina.)

  • The Late P Brooks||

    It depends whether any member is making money off it or not.

    Go look up the Red Cross president's salary.

    Fuck the "non-profit" scammers.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I'm sure his or her salary gets taxed. Some non profits need employees and that is just part of the organization's expenses. If you were to tax the Red Cross's net profits, that figure may very well be zero unless the Red Cross is paying dividends.

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