Stimulus Bill Would Discriminate Against Religious Activity on Campus, Conservative Groups Say

February 4, 2009 - 6:37 PM
President Obama's economic stimulus bill would forbid colleges -- both religious and secular -- from receiving stimulus funds to improve facilities that are used for religious purposes.
(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s economic stimulus bill would forbid colleges -- both religious and secular -- from receiving stimulus funds to improve facilities that are used for religious purposes.
 
The provision is found in the Higher Education Modernization, Renovation and Repair section (Sec. 9302) of both the House and Senate versions of the bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
 
According to the provision, none of funds of the $6 billion allotted to the renovation, modernization, or repair of college buildings may be used for facilities “(i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or school department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.”
 
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a law firm dedicated to protecting religious and constitutional freedoms, called the provision “discriminatory.”“This is an unacceptable provision that clearly discriminates against religious organizations that have the legal right to use these facilities,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. 
 
Sekulow pointed out that if the provision is not removed, it would affect not only religious schools and organizations, but also all higher education institutions.
 
“A state university that allows a group to have a worship service at a particular building cannot get funded for repairs of the building,” Sekulow said.  The provision is “an inequitable target on religious activity at colleges and universities,” he added.
 
Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based constitutional rights legal group, said the provision would basically require colleges and universities to violate equal access laws if they want to accept stimulus money to repair classrooms or college buildings.
 
“This particular provision says that if you’re going to accept federal funds, you've got to essentially violate the law and deny equal access to religious organizations or groups to use public facilities,” Staver said.
 
Staver told CNSNews.com that the new administration’s stimulus package constitutes an attempt to censor religion -- and cleanse it from the public square.
 
“Washington wants to micro-manage businesses, now they want to micro-manage religious expression out of existence,” Staver said.
 
According to Sekulow, religion exclusions of the type inserted into the stimulus bill are nothing new and have been litigated in the courts.
 
“This is a ‘go-back’ to an approach that was done in the 1980s, this religion exclusion,” he said. “We’ve litigated these cases in the courts for the last 20 years and we won, most of the time, unanimously.”
 
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) plans to introduce an amendment to peel the measure off the bill, according to his office. Both Sekulow and Staver told CNSNews.com the amendment has a good chance of being enacted.