Washington D.C.—Today, the civil rights organization American Atheists denounced the Small Business Administration (SBA) for forcing taxpayers to bailout religious worship, even as the agency increases churches’ ability to discriminate. American Atheists urged SBA to undo the expansion of religious exemptions from basic nondiscrimination laws.
“While religious organizations have received exemptions from nondiscrimination laws in limited circumstances, the analysis must change now that taxpayer dollars are at stake. Where public funds go, public accountability must follow,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy, who submitted comments today to SBA.
In April, Congress created an initial pot of $350 billion in forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses and non-profit organizations. SBA suddenly rolled back long-standing constitutional protections for the separation of religion and government, opening up these forgivable loans — essentially free government money — to houses of worship.
“Taxpayer dollars are now supporting inherently religious activities, requiring taxpayers to support discriminatory practices with which they may disagree merely because they are religious,” explained Gill.
In April, SBA also released a FAQ for faith-based organizations applying to receive PPP funding. American Atheists is urging SBA to rescind this guidance because it claims a religious nonprofit could not only prefer coreligionists in employment but also engage in broader employment discrimination based on religious belief, including discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. In addition, SBA’s Nondiscrimination Interim Final Rule (IFR) pertaining to PPP expands the ability of religious organizations to discriminate in housing.
“Religious organizations should not be allowed to discriminate in employment and housing because of their beliefs, and taxpayers must not be required to fund such discrimination,” said Gill. “Religious organizations cannot be allowed to exclude those of their own religion who they deem not to meet their standards of ‘religious practice,’ as this accusation is too often employed against LGBTQ people, unmarried pregnant women, people with HIV, women who have had abortions, and many others who would otherwise be protected by nondiscrimination laws.”
“Once PPP ends, SBA must rescind any policies that provide funding for inherently religious activities and allow religious organizations to receive federal grants while violating long-standing nondiscrimination rules,” she added.