Calif. Mission Funding Headed For Senate Committee Vote

AU's Lynn Criticizes Agreement Allowing Justice Department To Review Measure's Constitutionality

A bill that would allocate $10 million in taxpayer funds to mission churches in California will face a vote before a Senate committee tomorrow, after senators reportedly reached a deal on the measure's constitutional problems.

The bill, the California Missions Preservation Act (S. 1306), is being pushed by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State has criticized the measure, saying it amounts to a government subsidy for houses of worship. Nineteen of the 21 churches are still owned by the Catholic Church and provide religious services for active parishes.

According to an Associated Press report, Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.) has proposed allowing the Justice Department to decide if the allocation would violate church-state separation. The plan is expected to be voted on tomorrow in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn criticized Boxer's move, saying the Justice Department is certain to approve the funds. The Bush administration, Lynn noted, has been an enthusiastic advocate of a broad range of funding for "faith-based" institutions.

"Surely Sen. Boxer wouldn't want Attorney General Ashcroft to have the final word on constitutional issues such as reproductive choice, women's rights and the faith-based initiative," said AU's Lynn. 

On March 9, Lynn testified against the funding during a Senate hearing. In his testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, Lynn said federal aid to religion violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Houses of worship, he said, must be supported by voluntary giving, not government subsidies.

Lynn is urging members of the committee to vote against the bill.

"Taxpayer-funded religion has no place in America," he said. "I have no doubt that the missions are worthy of preservation, but the money for that must be raised through voluntary contributions. The federal government has no business paying for the maintenance and upkeep of churches. It's up to parishioners, not the taxpayers, to keep the church doors open, patch the roof and pay the light bill."

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.