Stimulus Wrongly Condemned as “Anti-Religious”
Recently, a number of respected Christian sources – including Mike Huckabee and Mississippi’s Baptist Record – were misled into opposing the stimulus package because of a clause Christian leaders have been mistakenly convinced is “anti-religion.” The issue at stake is a section of the massive aid bill that forbids colleges from using stimulus money to renovate or rebuild buildings that are primarily used for religious purposes.
The language of the clause in question prohibits funds for facilities “(i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or school department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.”
Wolves in sheep’s clothing have convinced Christian leaders that this spending restriction is a new attempt by Nancy Pelosi and others to limit religious expression and that it would deny religious groups on campus the same access to facilities that secular groups have. However, as Christianity Today – hardly a mouth-piece for Democrats or liberal Christians – explained in a 2009 article, this provision has been a part of every Congressional spending bill since 1963 and was included to protect funding for religious schools. This provision has been included by Democratic and Republican Congresses and signed by every Republican President since Nixon.
Here are the facts:
- These clauses have a long history and have been upheld by the courts as a central component to maintaining the constitutionality of federal spending going to religious institutions
- The language in this provision is from 1963 and has been used for 46 years
- In a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case, Tilton v. Richardson, the Court held that federal money could be used on facilities at religiously affiliated schools, as long as the buildings are “religiously neutral,” by which they meant that the primary purpose of the building must be to promote education, not religion.
- The stimulus bill, and this provision specifically, protects and promotes religious liberty
- The final bill passed by Congress allows for federal funds to go to private and religious educational institutions and prohibits governors from taking into account the “type or mission” of a school when allocating funds
- The only restrictions in the bill regarding funding for schools is that federal money cannot be used on athletic facilities where admission is charged and facilities that are not religiously neutral and have religious activity as their primary purpose (such as chapels and other worship space)
- Without these clauses, it is possible religious institutions would not be eligible to receive federal funding at all. The reason for this is that federal funding cannot be used for specifically religious purposes. If there was not a distinction made between “religiously neutral” and “primarily religious” buildings on the campuses of religiously affiliated schools and ways for schools to direct federal dollars to non-sectarian buildings, all building funding to religious schools would be in violation of Tilton v. Richardson.