Don’t Pay For Church Construction Abroad, AU Tells Obama Administration

U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to erect or rehabilitate houses of worship abroad, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told the Obama administration.

In comments submitted to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Americans United asserts that a rule change proposed by the Obama administration will violate Americans’ religious liberty rights.

Regulations issued under President George W. Bush state that U.S. tax funds may not underwrite the construction of buildings used primarily for worship. Under the proposed new rules, the government could construct any facility, including houses of worship, that might “promote tourism or other related economic activities.”

Americans United says the change is misguided.

“The government cannot use taxpayer money to build churches, mosques or temples in America, and it shouldn’t be permitted to do it overseas either,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Houses of worship should be built and maintained by their members, not the taxpayers.”

In the comments sent to Ari Alexander, director of the USAID Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett observed, “We, frankly, are dismayed that this Administration has chosen to offer this Proposed Rule as its first regulatory change to the Faith-Based Initiative. The current rule, put in place by the Bush Administration, already lacks proper church-state safeguards, as it allows the funding of buildings that serve both religious and secular purposes.

“Nonetheless,” continues the comments, “USAID has offered a Proposed Rule that strips even more religious freedom safeguards. Indeed, this rule would actually permit the federal government to construct churches, mosques, and temples with taxpayer funds as long as the government has a justification as insubstantial as it might ‘promote tourism or other related economic activities.’ This clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and the values of our nation.”

The AU comments were accompanied by an in-depth legal analysis, pointing out how the administration’s proposed change runs afoul of settled church-state law.