Senate Panel Approves Funding For California Mission Churches

AU's Lynn Says Measure Runs Afoul Of First Amendment

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today criticized a Senate committee for approving a bill that earmarks $10 million in federal funds for mission churches in California.

The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources approved the California Missions Preservation Act (H.R. 1446), which would provide federal funds for the repair and upkeep of 21 Roman Catholic missions and their artworks and artifacts. Nineteen of the 21 missions are still owned by the Catholic Church.

The committee action was decried by Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, who submitted testimony against the bill in March.

“The First Amendment requires a separation between government and religion,” said Lynn. “Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for repairing and restoring churches.”

The bill, which was passed by the House last year, states that mission grant requests must be reviewed by the U.S. Attorney General to ensure that the grants do not promote religion. Today’s action, which was pushed by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, paves the way for full Senate consideration.

“I am disappointed that Sen. Boxer would support this bill which so clearly undercuts the separation of church and state,” Lynn said. “I don’t think Sen. Boxer really believes that Attorney General John Ashcroft is the right person to make important decisions about our constitutional rights. Would she let Ashcroft make decisions about reproductive rights or free speech?

“I urge the entire Senate to protect the U.S. Constitution and vote down this ill-conceived measure,” Lynn concluded.

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.