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Could Your Taxes Fund Religious Buildings? Yes!

Tyler Ray,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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February 9, 2012

It’s everyone’s favorite time of the year: tax season! But as millions of us file our taxes (and hope we don’t get audited), federal agencies are considering troubling new regulations that could spend your tax money to construct churches and other religious buildings. A long time ago, James Madison denounced government attempts to spend even “three pence” of our taxes for religious purposes. And Thomas Jefferson stood up against the “sinful and tyrannical” act of forcing taxpayers to fund any religion (even their own) against their will. A lot has changed since then, but not this longstanding First Amendment principle. The separation of church and state protects against advancing religion with taxpayer dollars.

Recent administration action, however, attempts to wipe out constitutional protections against the use of public funds for religious purposes and would put in place even more lax policies than those in place under the George W. Bush administration. The ACLU has fought back against proposed regulations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, USAID, and the Department of Commerce, that if approved would allow the government to pay for constructing religious buildings. The Constitution requires that buildings built on the taxpayers’ dime cannot be put to religious use — but these regulations would allow exactly that — even to build churches! Each of these proposed regulations would be an affront to the Constitution. The government cannot be in the business of promoting religion.

Contrary to those who accuse this administration of a “war on religion,” the facts simply don’t add up. On top of this unsettling pattern of attempts to disregard the Constitution, President Obama boasted about an expansion of the faith-based initiative program last week at the National Prayer Breakfast. And in the last year alone, the administration has awarded Catholic Charities over three quarters of a billion dollars in grants.

Like the Founding Fathers before him, the Obama administration should be working to protect First Amendment principles, not undermine them by using public money to fund religious institutions.

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