Washington, D.C.—Today, American Atheists, joined by seven civil rights and religious freedom organizations, provided guidance to the Small Business Administration (SBA) on ensuring that funding programs created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act are administered constitutionally.
In the letter, the organizations emphasized that it would be unconstitutional for the SBA to provide direct financial aid to churches.
“Our Constitution protects all Americans by preventing the government from forcing them to fund a religion they do not practice,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists, who wrote the letter. “That’s precisely why the SBA already has in place substantial protections for the separation of religion and government, as required by the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
According to SBA regulations, “businesses principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counselling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting” are ineligible for business loans and for economic disaster loans.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which let a church receive government funding to resurface its playground, has led to widespread confusion,” added Gill. “Even if this case is interpreted as broadly as possible, it still does not allow for government funding of religious activity. The SBA would be in violation of the Establishment Clause if it were to do so.”
“The Framers understood that direct government support of religion was a recipe for disaster,” said Nick Fish, President of American Atheists. “Even in the face of a crisis like this, we cannot allow our government to ignore its obligations under the Constitution.”
“Redirecting a single dollar of this money to unaccountable churches lacking even the most basic transparency requirements when millions of Americans are faced with profound uncertainty about their jobs—and their health—would be a moral disgrace,” added Fish. “SBA needs to follow its existing rules and the Constitution to ensure the American people get the help they need.”