Bush Proposal To Expand Church Buildings With Tax Funds 'patently Unconstitutional,' Says Americans United

January 24, 2003

A Bush administration plan to allow taxpayer funds to subsidize the building of facilities at churches and other houses of worship is unconstitutional and will likely lead to challenges in court, Americans United for Separation of Church and State said today. 

Administration officials announced Wednesday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will allow federal money to be used by religious entities to construct buildings where worship is held as long as sections of the structures are also used for providing social services.

"This administration has simply gone too far in its assault on church-state separation," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The 'faith-based initiative' was bad enough, but now Bush wants taxpayers to foot the bill for church expansion projects. This policy is outrageous as well as patently unconstitutional; it is bound to spark litigation." 

Previous HUD policy barred religious bodies from using housing and community building funds to expand houses of worship. Richard A. Hauser, HUD's general counsel, told The New York Times that approach will be reversed. "There's no reason you can't have a cathedral upstairs and something that would look like any other room in the basement," Hauser said.

AU's Lynn said the new policy will prove to be unworkable. "How is the government to determine when there's too much religious activity in a taxpayer-funded building?" he asked. "My guess is that once these facilities are built with tax funds, no government inspector is ever going to come around and check."

Lynn said AU's Legal Department is studying the proposal. The organization, he said, will not hesitate to sue to defend church-state separation.

"Churches that want to add on an annex should turn to their members for the money to do it, not the taxpayer," Lynn said. "Houses of worship built with federal funds simply have no place in America."

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.