The House of Representatives voted last week to allow federal disaster aid to be spent rebuilding churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship damaged following Superstorm Sandy. The funds would come from the $60 billion previously approved for rebuilding homes, businesses, and infrastructure in the hardest hit areas.
For years, federal aid was not available to religious institutions under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The bill, H.R. 592, bypasses the Constitution to give taxpayer money directly to churches, a first since the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, in 1978.
The supporters of the bill claim federal disaster benefits are available to everyone, including religious institutions. Public works projects have been available to religious institutions, regardless of the funding source.
Opponents, including the ACLU, disagree with the idea that federal benefits are freely available. They maintain that spending money to build or repair houses of worship has been declared unconstitutional through multiple Supreme Court cases.
The bill is set to move to the Senate.
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