One of the more bizarre legislative proposals has to be HR 592, introduced by Congressman Christopher Smith (R-N.J.). Under this act, houses of worship become eligible for FEMA grants "without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility."
This is in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the destruction it visited upon the east coast of the United States. Most people want to the government to pitch in and help out when there is such massive loss of personal property. But anyone with a scintilla of sensibility for the separation of church and state must start to wonder of the same wind that destroyed properties has also blown away the old constraints on state funding of religion.
In Germany and other "old Europe" model to lift a Donald Rumsfeldt label, citizens are required to contribute monies to the state for support of the churches. That is indeed an old world model—it is part of what we call establishment, and something forbidden by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Through his Faith-Based Initiative about eight years ago then President Bush effectively stepped over the line to enable the churches to disburse state money that would have otherwise gone into welfare programs. Maybe one day the Supremes will take a closer look at the program. But even FBI would not dare to build a church with state money. Well, perhaps they will one day, because I well remember listening to the justices banter about state aid during one recent case, and to my horror they took up as a joke that very idea. For a long time they kept returning to the idee fixe of state church construction, and to my ears they were all ok with it as long as it was done even-handedly to all churches. I hope that when the jokes are set aside they will not be so dismissive of the First Amendment and the principle of church-state separation.
But most of us involved with religious liberty and the Constitution know that direct state and to churches is off limits. The years-long skirmishing over vouchers is proof of the restraints most accept. So why would a legislator introduce HR 592 with some significant backing among his peers?
Insurers are often accused of ducking their obligations when there is an extraordinary situation like a natural disaster. Policies often exclude "acts of God." Anyone with a little Biblical knowledge knows that is a little unfair to God. However it is in such times that a church is thrust to its elemental mission. Not an appropriate time to reach to Caesar rather than to God, I say.
Think about it. Disaster relief to rebuild churches is direct subsidy of operation. It is not even egalitarian as the banter of the Supremes imagined—it will reward those largest religious denominations either by congregation of replacement value of the particular edifice. It would treat churches as a public trust, which they are not. The rebuilding after an act of God is best left to an act of faith.
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."