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February 7, 2009

Senate Rejects Stimulus Aid for Religious Buildings

The U.S. Senate defeated an amendment to the economic stimulus bill Thursday that would have allowed federal funding for renovations at college buildings that are used for religious activity.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., proposed the amendment after voicing criticism of a stimulus provision that says funds for colleges and universities could not be used for modernization or renovation of buildings where "sectarian instruction" or "religious worship" occur.

"This is a direct attack on students of faith, and I'm outraged Democrats are using an economic stimulus bill to promote discrimination," DeMint said after the 54-43 vote defeating the amendment.

Church-state groups, however, welcomed the vote.

"The Senate has voted to reaffirm an important American principle -- that religious groups should pay their own way and not expect funding from the taxpayer," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Conservative Christian groups, meanwhile, agreed with DeMint. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said the provision "has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination."

Andrea Lafferty, executive directosr of the Traditional Values Coalition, called the vote "a significant defeat to our First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom and free speech."

Comments

Please sign petition if you oppose the stimulus.
Sen. DeMint will take this to the floor.
Suport him and your faith. Thanks.

www.nostimulus.com

The Stimulus Package does not need Sen. DeMint's pork spending. Good call, Senate.
This has nothing to do with religious freedom.

Since when did religious groups become special interests entitled to free handouts from the government.
Let's wean religious colleges off the dole.

Pablo, the truth went right over your head. Everybody that the Democrats want to curry favor with get the billions and billions of pork. But the bigoted authors of the bill EXCLUDE giving money only to those colleges that allow a student group labeled "religious" to use the facility. In other words free speech applies to all religions except Christianity.

This article significantly misstates the language in the stimulus. Here's the actual language in the stimilus. It prohibits funds for removation, modernization, or repair for

"facilities--

(i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or

(ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission[.]"

Similar language has been included in federal law for OVER 40 YEARS. It has long been understood that the language relates to programs, activities, facilities that are primarily religious in use or nature. So, while Sen. DeMint may have a quibble that the language used is not as clear as it might be, he is disingenuous to say the least to imply that the goal of this language is to "discriminate" against "religious freedom." Rather than firing a broadside against the motives and morality of folks on the other side, all he needed to do, if he actually wanted to fix something, was to have suggested language to clarify the intent of the provision. Instead, he tried to (and resoundingly failed) to eliminate the entire provision.

And, CT (and a lot of other publications) bought into his hyperbole without any apparent attempt to analyze the actual language and its history or even to (again, apparently) talk to the other side.

Here's the actual debate between Sen. DeMint (R-SC) and Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.) on the floor of the Senate in which Sen. Durbin explains the purpose and history of the language.

***

Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I encourage all my colleagues to listen for a moment. This is a very simple amendment that strikes some language that should not be in this massive spending bill. It is language that discriminates against religious freedom on college campuses.

Right now in the bill, any college campus that uses these funds to renovate a student center, a dorm, an auditorium, cannot allow prayer, any religious activity, or worship. This is not language that should be in this bill. This is an issue that has been decided by the courts.

Arbitrary language is going to create doubt and risk and liability which will put a chilling effect on religious freedom on campuses.

The only thing most of us need to know is that the ACLU opposes this amendment. Any freedom-loving American should know they should vote for this amendment if it is opposed by the ACLU.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Illinois.

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, the provision in the bill states that Federal funds cannot be used to support facilities in which a substantial portion of the functions of the building are involved in a religious mission.

I say to the Senator from South Carolina, this language has been in the law for 40 years. It is the result of three Supreme Court decisions.

Mr. DeMINT. Will the Senator yield?

Mr. DURBIN. No, I won't. It was signed into law in the Higher Education Reauthorization Act signed by President Ronald Reagan, President George Herbert Walker Bush, and President George W. Bush.

The DeMint amendment is opposed by the Jesuit universities. We have struck a balance here helping religious schools on buildings that are not primarily for religious functions. We will continue doing that and continue honoring our Constitution's establishment clause.

I hope everyone will support me in opposing the DeMint amendment and stand by the language that has been time tested and approved by the Supreme Court in three separate decisions.

Mr. DeMINT. May I correct a mischaracterization?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. All time has expired.

The question is on agreeing to amendment No. 189.

***

Even if CT disagreed with Sen. Durbin's explanation, or the understanding of the Jesuit colleges that agree with him, it should have at least noted the opposing view, or better yet researched the issue to see if his explanation was correct or not. Laws are not passed or interpreted in a vacuum. When there is a decades-long use of similar language and a colloquy in the legislative history, it would be absurd to believe that the law would be interpreted to deny funding to renovate a building that allowed a Christian student group to use a room for bible study once in a while (on the same terms it allowed any other recognized student group to meet).

The law that Sen. Durbin refers to is Public Law 100-297, signed into law by Pres. Reagan in April 1988. The official summary states that the law "Prohibits any grant under this title for any educational program, activity, or service related to sectarian instruction or religious worship, or provided by a school or department of divinity." See http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d100:HR00005:@@@D&summ2=m&|TOM:/bss/d100query.html|

It is people like Sen. DeMint that are trying to undermine the president's efforts. As a Christian, I don't see the need for this to be included in the stimulus package. He is one of those that are saying that this is not a stimulus. He is trying to insert this to throw a wedge between people. He is NOT saying this because he is a Christian. He is one of the reasons why people are skeptical of the christian faith. He appears to me as a pharisee, full of hypocrite and devoid of love for his fellowman.

Being against the stimulus package is one issue. Being in favor of my church or the college where I teach ("faith-based") getting their mitts on a part of those funds is a separate issue. I oppose the stimulus as currently constituted for a number of reasons, but I do not want the "City of God" behaving as if it is dependent upon the "City of Man." Placing the restrictions on the use of the funds may - or may not - be bad public policy, but it not "religious discrimination."