Back in February, Reason Magazine editor Matt Welch decried passage of legislation in the House of Representatives allocating federal funds to fix up houses of worship damaged by superstorm Sandy. Today, a terrific New York Times editorial, "A First Amendment Storm," chimes in:
In the bipartisan lunge to give in to political pressure from some religious groups after Hurricane Sandy, the House dispensed with holding even a single hearing before passing the bill, which abandons decades of Supreme Court precedent and longstanding administrative rules barring direct taxpayer financing of religious activities.
Complaints that current rules unfairly discriminate against houses of worship are simply wrong. Churches, like most nonprofit organizations and businesses, are eligible for government loans to make storm-related repairs. They are also eligible for disaster assistance grants, just as secular nonprofit organizations are, if they dedicate at least 50 percent of their facilities to providing “essential services of a governmental nature” — like a community homeless shelter or soup kitchen open to the general public on a nondiscriminatory basis. Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, one of only six Republicans to vote against the bill, rightly argued that it unfairly exempts churches from the neutral requirement that beneficiaries of federal aid have to provide key secular services....
The First Amendment does not allow a Hurricane Sandy exception to pay for the rebuilding of damaged houses of worship. The Senate should let the bill die.
Absolutely correct. By the way, were the damaged houses of worship relying on prayer for protection instead of subsidized flood insurance?
For background, see my column, "Separating Church and State Money."