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July/August 2013

Discover more articles from this issue.

Not It At All

Religious liberty means so many different things to so many different people.

To Teach or Not To Teach

In 2011 John Freshwater, a Christian with a 20-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School in Ohio, was fired for encouraging his students to think critically about the school’s science curriculum, particularly as it relates to evolution theories.

The Firebrand

The Complex Legacy of Girolamo Savonarola

How Much Liberty?

Without doubt, current viewpoints of leading Roman Catholic cardinals on the subject of religious liberty reveal a concept that highly favors the liberty of the church to fulfill its mission in society.

Which Way Freedom?

The Constitution of the United States, which forever separated church and state in this country, was the fruit of a long struggle for liberty and intensive study by great minds.

Paying for Acts of God - FEMA Funds for Houses of Worship

Religious organizations are seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to rebuild, even though traditionally houses of worship have not been eligible for federal taxpayer subsidies.

Disaster Relief for Churches?

FEMA aid to houses of worship does not require taxpayers to financially support the propagation of abhorrent religious beliefs.

A Festival in Chiapas

More than 25,000 people attended the 2013 Festival of Religious Freedom in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. This was the largest celebration of its kind in a region that has seen thousands persecuted for their faith. 

Myanmar Deprives Rohingyas of Their Rights

The prejudice against the Rohingya people runs deep, leaving them with few supporters in Myanmar.

Magazine Archive »

Published in the July/August 2013 Magazine
Opinion, by Alan J. Reinach

The American tradition of separation of church and state was established, in part, on a pillar of “no aid” to churches, fueled by Jefferson’s rhetoric in his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which said: “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”

But this principle of “no aid” has morphed, over the years, due to the changing circumstances of American society, and the increasingly pervasive hand of government in every aspect of American life. Now comes a bill in Congress to include houses of worship in the FEMA aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Sandy was followed by a firestorm over whether buildings used for worship should be included in Uncle Sam’s largesse.

The “no aid” rejection of FEMA aid to churches is easy to argue: no aid means no aid. Separation of church and state means the church is on its own. The state is aloof from the business of religion. But this position woodenly ignores the values and ideas behind “no aid.”

One core premise of the First Amendment is liberty of conscience. Government abstention from involvement in religion is designed to avoid the state influencing or coercing religious beliefs and choices. Of course, this goal is not easy to achieve. Take vouchers, for example. Voucher programs for private school tuition have been upheld as constitutional, but inherently favor those schools willing to comply with state-mandated curricula and nondiscrimination requirements. Schools unwilling to meet the requirements are placed at a further economic disadvantage—not only are they more expensive than public schools, but remain among the few unsubsidized private schools. This is not what the First Amendment was designed to do.

So what about FEMA aid to rebuild houses of worship? Such aid does not discriminate among victims. The Supreme Court long ago determined that neutral principles of law must be used, for example, to resolve disputes about who properly owns church property. Neutral criteria determine whether a house of worship qualifies for aid, and how much. There is no favoritism here. To exclude houses of worship would be both punitive and discriminatory. If the government is going to provide relief, all should be eligible regardless of the purpose. It would be ironic if FEMA aid was available to strip clubs, bars, and liquor stores, but not to houses of worship.

FEMA aid to houses of worship does not require taxpayers to financially support the propagation of abhorrent religious beliefs. Such aid simply recognizes that houses of worship belong in our community, and deserve respect. After all, the foundation of religious freedom is the golden rule, as nearly universal a moral premise as ever existed. Respect for everyone’s place of worship is not unconstitutional; it is as American as pulling together to help one another in a time of crisis.

Author: Alan J. Reinach

Alan J. Reinach is Executive Director of the Church State Council, the religious liberty educational and advocacy arm of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, representing five western states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. His legal practice emphasizes First Amendment religious freedom cases, and religious accommodation cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related state civil rights laws. Reinach is also a Seventh-day Adventist minister who speaks regularly on religious freedom topics, and is the host of a nationally syndicated weekly radio broadcast, “Freedom’s Ring.” He is the principal author and editor of Politics and Prophecy: The Battle for Religious Liberty and the Authentic Gospel, and a frequent contributor to Libertymagazine.

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