Washington D.C.—Today, the religious equality watchdog organization American Atheists condemned Congress’s failure to include necessary constitutional protections in the $484 billion aid bill passed by the House of Representatives. As a result, the additional $310 billion injected into the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program can unconstitutionally fund religious worship.
“Congress must include these First Amendment protections in any future stimulus bills, particularly after the Small Business Administration weakened its own regulations, allowing the original $350 billion in stimulus money to fund religious worship,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists.
Longstanding SBA regulations had prevented “businesses principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counselling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting” from receiving business or economic disaster loans. However, with its guidance on the Paycheck Protection Program from the CARES Act, SBA suddenly indicated in early April that it would “decline to enforce these subsections.”
“If the SBA won’t do its job and protect the Constitution, Congress must finally step in,” said Nick Fish, President of American Atheists. “Congress is rushing to replenish Paycheck Protection Program funds after countless businesses were unable to access these loans to preserve jobs. What we don’t know is how many well-heeled mega churches were able to secure government money to pay their pastors’ salary, while small businesses were left out in the cold.”
“Thousands and thousands of our supporters have warned Congress that these stimulus bills fail to adequately protect the constitutional separation of religion and government,” said Gill. “Accountability, transparency, and adherence to the Constitution are critical, especially in the face of a crisis.”