Americans United Opposes Federal Security Subsidies For Houses Of Worship

Federal Security Subsidies Would Violate Church-State Separation, Says Watchdog Group

A congressional measure that would allocate $100 million for security renovations at houses of worship and other charities violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled today to consider the "High Risk Nonprofit Security Enhancement Act," a measure sponsored by Rep. Gerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that would subsidize anti-terrorism improvements at religious and other charitable institutions. The bill (H.R. 4108/S. 2275) is being offered as an amendment to the "Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act."

In a letter to committee members, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, warned that the measure raises First Amendment concerns.

"We believe this legislation is unconstitutional," wrote Lynn, "and would significantly erode church-state separation protections.

"While Americans United certainly appreciates that the threat of terrorism is real," he continued, "we believe that the thrust of the legislation to allow for direct security enhancements to nonprofits, including religious bodies, is misdirected and that the most efficient way to make our non-profits, including our religious institutions, more secure is through enhancing the abilities of our First Responders.  There is no constitutional prohibition, of course, on providing additional government funds for law enforcement protections of nonprofits, including houses of worship."

Lynn noted that the measure would pay for permanent improvements to houses of worship, offer below-market loan guarantees and limit aid to larger institutions.

Concluded Lynn, "Although it is certainly appropriate for Congress to address the security needs of our nation's high-risk non-profit institutions, we believe that this amendment, as currently drafted, is misguided and will likely lead to severe and unconstitutional church-state entanglement, thwarting our nation's longstanding commitment to the preservation of religious liberty. In our attempts to safeguard our nation, we must not destroy the very principle which has served our nation well and stands as one of our greatest achievements."

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.

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.