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Organizations Call Upon Congress to Protect Church/State Separation in COVID-19 Relief Bill

Washington, D.C.—Today, American Atheists was joined by seven civil rights organizations in urging Congress to include language in the new coronavirus relief bill that would prevent loan forgiveness for billions of dollars that have been used to support religious activities.

The Trump Administration has admitted that at least $7.3 billion was provided to places of worship through the Paycheck Protection Program.

“Our goal is not to bar religious organizations from receiving loan assistance, or even loan forgiveness for their secular activities,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy, who drafted the organizational letter. “However, loan funds that are used to support inherently religious activities must be paid back, not forgiven.”

In April, the Trump Administration interpreted the previous coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act, to allow loan recipients to receive forgiveness for funds used to support religious activities, including clergy salaries and rent and utility payments for houses of worship. Guidance issued by the Small Business Administration made clear that funding would be provided “without regard to whether nonprofit entities provide secular social services.”

“Loans that are forgiven are essentially grants, and it is improper for the federal government to directly support religious activities. This is a founding principle of our democracy. Thomas Jefferson called taxing one person to support the religious beliefs of another ‘tyrannical,’” said Gill. “Even during this pandemic, we must not set aside core constitutional principles, such as the separation of religion and government, which is the basis of our religious freedom as Americans.”

“We ask Congress not to exclude religious organizations, but to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent in accordance with basic constitutional requirements,” added Gill.

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