Senate Panel Looks At California Church Funding Bill

Federal Aid To 'Historic Missions' Raises Constitutional Concerns

A Senate panel has scheduled a hearing next week on a bill that would provide $10 million in federal assistance to restore mission churches in California.

NOTE: The Senate subcommittee hearing on S. 1306, the California Missions Preservations Act, has been scheduled for March 9. Please visit the sucommittee web site for more information.

On Feb. 5, the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands will consider the "California Missions Preservation Act," a measure that passed the House last fall. The bill, S.1306, would provide federal funds to pay for "efforts to restore and repair the California missions, and to preserve associated artworks and artifacts."

The state's 21 missions run along a 600-mile stretch of highway from San Diego to Sonoma and were founded by the Catholic Church in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Nineteen of the 21 missions are still owned by the church and function as places of worship.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is scheduled to testify at the Senate subcommittee hearing.

"Preservation of historic buildings is important, but preservation of our constitutional rights is vital," observes Lynn. "It violates the First Amendment to force taxpayers to pay for church repairs. I believe the people of California would voluntarily donate enough money to preserve these mission buildings without passing the collection plate to Uncle Sam."

Lynn noted that Americans are extraordinarily generous when it comes to donating money to religious causes. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles raised over $189 million to build a new cathedral that opened in 2002. At the building's dedication, Mahoney announced that the church was fully paid for through private donations.

"If the cardinal can raise $189 million to build a brand new church," says Lynn, "I'm certain that donors will gladly contribute the money necessary to preserve historic churches."

The California Missions Foundation, which was created by the state in 1998 to raise money for repairing the missions, is seeking $10 million from the federal government and another $10 million from the state. It has raised $3 million from private sources, according to the Tri-Valley Herald, a Pleasanton, Calif., daily.

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.