From email@example.com Wed Dec 19 22:00:06 2001
Subject: AANEWS for Wednesday, December 19, 2001
Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2001 18:02:36 -0500
historicchurchesprogram could cost millions
Sen. Joseph Lieberman told a church audience on Monday that
government should repair
historic houses of worship as part of
a program to preserve
We can't tell American history...without talking about the history
of our sacred places, the former Democratic vice presidential
We can't have a strong future for our
community without safeguarding the buildings (that are used for
worship). Lieberman suggested that President Bush's federal
faith-based initiative now being considered on Capitol Hill could play
a key role in the rehabilitation of dilapidated churches, synagogues
and mosques across the nation. Lieberman is the Democratic point man
on crafting a compromise version of earlier legislation passed in the
House of Representatives that would allow religious groups to accept
public funds in order to operate faith-based social services, but
require them to adhere to local and state anti-discrimination
Later, Lieberman spoke at the Winthrop Avenue Church in New Haven,
Conn., and used the occasion to unveil a list of what he said where
ten houses of worship with historic significance and in serious need
of repair. Recalling his own visit to the building in the late 1960s
when it served as a synagogue, Lieberman told worshippers,
really quite nostalgic to be here. He added that religious groups
were already playing a vital role in the delivery of faith-based
social programs, and said that the nation's houses of worship
anchoring centers of community service and moral leadership.
The list of churches and other worship facilities ostensibly needing
rehabilitation was compiled by a group known as Partners for Sacred
Places, which describes itself as
the only national, non-sectarian,
non-profit organization dedicated to the sound stewardship and active
community use of America's older religious properties. Lieberman's
Monday appearance at the two churches was also part of a new campaign,
Stakeholders for Sacred Places, which is described as
initiative to build 12 to 15 new community-based, religious properties
programs around the country. The program would train local
community advocates and mobilize preservation groups, in part, to
lobby for government funds in order to repair houses of worship.
The 'establishment of religion clause' of the First Amendment means
at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a
church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all
religions, or prefer one religion over another ... No tax in any
amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious
activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever
form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state
nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the
affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa...
-- Justice Hugo Black, opinion in EVERSON v. BOARD OF EDUCATION
Despite constitutional prohibitions, the inviting prospect of using
public tax money to repair and maintain houses of worship is, in the
minds of a number of political and clerical leaders, an idea
time has come.
Partners for Sacred Places suggests that programs to aid churches are
justified since religious groups contribute extensively to their
surrounding communities. The group claims, for instance, that
than 50% of congregations use their older buildings to meet basic
needs through food and clothing, and that
congregation provides over 5,300 hours of volunteer support. This,
according to a self-published PSP survey, translates into a value of
between $100,000 and $140,000 per year from churches. The group adds,
Twenty five percent of all studied congregations are facing major
Similar claims have been made in defense of President Bush's
faith-based initiative -- that religious groups contribute enormous
value outside of the government welfare system, and thus
deserve public support.
A lot of this is smoke and mirrors, says Ellen Johnson,
President of American Atheists.
Even if this is all true, it's
merely stating what churches say about themselves -- that they do all
sorts of community projects. But now they want us to pay for it all,
and the churches, mosques and temples that supposedly house these
Johnson added that religious groups already receive lavish tax
exemption, and under
special rights legislation such as the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, are
effectively immune to many local and state land use ordinances.
Another claim found in a Partners study was that
congregation will have to spend more than $200,000 over the next
several years to repair its building, straining the budgets of even
the most affluent church and synagogues. Johnson questioned the
figure, and said that even if it were true, the bill to the taxpayers
would be staggering.
We simply don't know how much money is passing through America's
churches and other religious groups, Johnson noted.
doesn't track that money, and religious groups often set up
dummy-corporations to shelter income ranging from donations to
There are about 350,000 houses of worship in the
U.S., and using this figure we have a whopping $75 billion dollar
price tag. I don't think the average taxpayer wants to pick up that
expense, and the typical Atheist or freethinker should certainly not
be taxed for this 'religion rebate.'
Advocacy groups, political leaders and the Bush administration,
though, have been gradually promoting the idea of using public funds
to rehabilitate and maintain houses of worship. During his tenure as
Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives, for instance, John DiIulio praised the efforts of the
Partners group, and called for government to begin paying for
bricks-and-mortar repair to dilapidated houses of worship. Last
April, prior to his resignation from the White House position, DiIulio
addressed a Partners for Sacred Places banquet in Philadelphia, and
excoriated those where
behind the curve in thinking of our older
religious properties as civic assets.
When those building crumble, said DiIulio,
when the deferred
maintenance catches up, the preschool and the prison ministry and the
day-care center and the after-school latchkey learning program ...
crumble and go away too. They just don't move to the Ramada Inn.
DiIulio also criticized a 1995 administrative ruling that prohibits
the use of federal National Park Service money for the rehabilitation
of maintenance of any religious properties, adding that the Bush
administration considered the restriction to be
Lieberman's call for government entitlements was the kick-off event to
publicize the Partners For Sacred Places latest report,
Places to Save. The document lists ten congregations throughout
the country which are engaged in social services, such as the Crescent
Avenue Presbyterian Church in Plainfield, N.J. But it is unclear
whether money is needed to strengthen program delivering services to
the poor, or maintain architectural and structural features of
buildings. That congregation, according to Partners,
raise $4 million to replace the entire cast stone facade of the Gothic
Revival Church -- one stone at a time.
Another church looking for taxpayer aid is the Acts of the Apostles Church in Jesus Christ, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It needs $1.2 million to repair the tower and other portions of its turn-of-the-century facility.
But these costs pale when compared to the larger agenda being promoted
by Partners and its supporters.
This report, '10 Sacred Places to
Save,' could have been called '10,000 Sacred Places to Save,' because
this is just the tip of the iceberg, gushed Diane Cohen,
co-director of the organization.
http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faithlob (Background on the federal faith-based initiative)
More mixed signals
on bush faith-based funding plan, 12/8/01)
czar leaving post, 8/19/01)
Bush open to
compromise on Lieberman faith-based bill, 7/29/01)
We may pay for 'faith-based' bricks-and-mortar..., 4/8/01)