The Bush administration's plan to use federal housing funds to help churches and other houses of worship construct or repair their facilities is constitutionally flawed and should not be implemented, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a seven-page memorandum delivered today to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Americans United's legal department said the plan, which was first made public in early January, fails "to comply with constitutional requirements."
The public had until today to issue comments to the department before it is expected to approve the plan, which would allow religious groups to acquire federal aid to rehabilitate or build facilities used for both religious and social service activities. Richard A. Hauser, HUD's general counsel, told The New York Times that the department's traditional rule prohibiting religious entities from using tax dollars to build or refurbish houses of worship would be dumped for the administration's new plan.
"The First Amendment clearly forbids government to build or repair houses of worship," said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "I hope the Bush administration will scrap this egregiously unconstitutional proposal."
Lynn noted that the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that tax funds could not be used for the maintenance of religious buildings. In its Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist decision, the justices stated that "[i]f the State may not erect buildings in which religious activities are to take place, it may not maintain such buildings or renovate them when they fall into disrepair."
AU's memo to HUD noted that the Bush plan contains no explanation of how federal workers would ensure that public funds are not spent to advance religion or how they would ensure that the needy would not being subjected to religious indoctrination in publicly funded programs that provide shelter or housing.
"The new HUD policy is a reckless extension of Bush's initiative to provide broad-based financial support to religious groups," Lynn said. "It will also undermine our country's efforts to help our neediest."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.