Interfaith Alliance Urges Congress to Oppose Government Funding to Rebuild Houses of Worship
February 11, 2013
Re: Oppose H.R 592 The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance, I write to express our opposition to H.R. 592, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013. This legislation would “amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to clarify that houses of worship are eligible for certain disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other eligible private nonprofit facilities.” Interfaith Alliance strongly opposes this bill and any attempts to grant federal funds to rebuild houses of worship—even those damaged by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy—because doing so sets in motion a violation of religious liberty that ultimately hurts a house of worship more than helps it.
Hurricane Sandy’s tragic impact reminds us of the aftermath of far too many other natural disasters. As a Baptist minister to a congregation in Monroe, Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina in particular is on the forefront of my mind. In times such as these, there is an understandable, compassion-based temptation to steer federal funds to houses of worship that have been damaged, but it is a temptation we must resist. An act of compassion must not be allowed to erode our historic Constitution.
The independence of houses of worship from the government regulations which accompany government funds is more important than federal dollars with which to do reconstruction. Becoming dependent on or indebted to our government’s financial benevolence is far from being in a house of worship’s best interest. The autonomy of religious institutions—and religious leaders—from the government coffers and the government’s regulation is what enables religion to flourish and enables clergy to speak truth to power as a prophetic voice to our government.
Interfaith Alliance has long been critical of efforts to funnel tax dollars to religious institutions whether through the faith-based initiative, or in emergency situations like this—even in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—because of reverence and respect for these important institutions in our society. To steer such money to religious institutions clearly violates the boundaries between religion and government, and opens the door to government intrusion into the affairs of houses of worship. Making an exception in this case will only result in damaging a principle that has ensured the ability of diverse faith and belief to flourish in this country for centuries.
Furthermore, to imply as this bill does, that a house of worship “provides essential services of a governmental nature,” does a disservice to religious institutions. There is no doubt in my mind that houses of worship are essential. They are not however “of a government nature,” and to imply otherwise is to challenge the independence and integrity of these institutions. Houses of worship often provide critical services to their communities and, even while sometimes done in partnership with government, this work is rooted in their faith, in their religious teachings, not in being an extension of government.
Government can do so much to help communities recover from these tragedies and so much has been learned from the mistakes made in the wake of Katrina. But to violate a principle inherent in the foundation of our religious freedom would be a disservice to all Americans, including those whose places of worship have been impacted by natural disasters.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
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Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance has 185,000 members across the country from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.