The Secular Coalition for America released a statement Friday condemning a Senate bill that would allow churches to receive federal grants for the repair of their property in the wake of natural disasters.
The bill, S. 1823, would amend the The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to permit churches and other religious institutions to receive funds from FEMA.
“The government cannot compel taxpayers to support religious institutions,” said Larry T. Decker, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America in the statement. “Our hearts go out to all who were impacted by the recent hurricanes but religious freedom is a value that must be defended in the best and worst of times. This legislation, however well-intentioned, will rebuild houses of worship by knocking down the wall of separation between church and state.”
“It is frankly appalling to see the religious right and the lawmakers beholden to them using these recent tragedies as a pretense to advance their agenda,” Decker continued. “I support ensuring those commodities make it to places where people are being cared for but, it cannot be stressed enough, that this is not what this bill does. This legislation crosses a dangerous new line by putting the government in the business of building churches.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbot and Attorney General Ken Paxton support the measure, and sent a letter to President Trump Wednesday asking him to grant religious institutions access to the same federal money as secular institutions.
At least three Texas churches were damaged when Hurricane Harvey rocked Texas, and are now suing FEMA to provide disaster relief, Reuters reports.