In a move that raises church-state questions, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced Sept. 21 that Maryland will become the first state to spend a portion of its federal homeland security allotment at religious institutions.
Ehrlich's announcement took place at a Jewish day school that will receive subsidies through the program. Instead of spending the money on more police officers and other security measures that do not infringe on constitutional principles, Ehrlich has taken a step that allows government dollars to pay for permanent improvements to houses of worship and, in this case, religious education. This move sets a bad precedent.
Understanding the gravity of this risk, prominent Jewish groups have actively opposed congressional measures that offer similar security subsidies for religious institutions. Both Reform and Recontructionist leaders have argued that federal aid or below-market loan guarantees for houses of worship "seriously weakens the wall separating church and state, which is a vital protector of religious liberty for all Americans." (The Union of Reform Judaism is the largest American Jewish movement.)
"We have long taken a position that there should not be a direct government transfer of funds to houses of worship," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "Such funding is not only something that we oppose but that the Supreme Court has never upheld," he said. Asked if this position applies even when dealing with security, Saperstein said yes, but added that there are ways in which local authorities can provide security to religious congregations without undermining the Constitution.
The prominent Anti-Defamation League has also come out against this legislation to provide this funding.