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New Regulation Proposes Government-Funding of Religion

Elayne Weiss,
Washington Legislative Office
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May 10, 2011

Did you know your federal tax dollars could soon be used to help construct, acquire or rebuild houses of worship overseas? The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the government agency primarily responsible for distributing foreign aid, has proposed a new rule that, if adopted, would allow federal funds to do just that.

Of course this deeply flawed proposal is unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the federal government from using tax dollars to construct or maintain buildings devoted to religious instruction or worship.

Current USAID regulations prohibit funds from being “used for the acquisition, construction, or rehabilitation of structures to the extent that they are used for inherently religious activities.” The regulations explain that “[s]anctuaries, chapels, and other rooms . . . [used as a] principal place of worship” are “ineligible for USAID-funded improvements.” The Bush administration, like the Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Reagan administrations before, recognized that the Constitution does not permit taxpayer dollars to be used to build houses of worship.

Now, USAID wants to ignore the Constitution and allow U.S. taxpayer funds to be used to construct churches, mosques, or temples. This is very disappointing, especially considering that President Obama recently signed an executive order to “promote compliance with constitutional and other applicable legal principles” in the government’s relationship with faith-based organizations.

Because this proposal does not meet constitutional muster, yesterday, the ACLU submitted comments to USAID urging the agency not to adopt the proposal.

President Obama promised to change the way faith-based groups work with the government. This USAID proposed rule conflicts with the president’s own directive and is a step in the wrong direction.

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