Mike Pence Gonna Pay Pastors As Small 'Businesses' Because Isn't That What A Church Is?
Good thing there's a $100,000 limit per employee, or you might be on the hook for Kenneth Copeland's $760 million.
Remember how Republicans shrieked that Democrats were trying to sneak a big pile of Liberal Agenda into the $2.2 trillion stimulus package? Well guess what else is in there? There's a big fat fuck you to the First Amendment, in the form of making churches eligible for taxpayer money to pay pastors idled by the social distancing orders that have shut down weekly services. Under the portion of the bailout package aimed at helping small businesses, the Trump administration is clearing the way for direct government funding of religion, because what is the Establishment Clause anyway?
NPR explains this is all part of the administration's efforts to expand public funding of faith-based organizations; in 2018, for instance, FEMA decided churches and other places of worship could get disaster funds.
The new SBA program, however, takes federal funding of religious institutions significantly further. Under the new Paycheck Protection Program, businesses with fewer than 500 employees, including faith-based organizations, are eligible to receive loans of up to $10 million, with at least 75% of the money going to cover payroll costs. The loans are in large part forgivable, so churches and other houses of worship won't have to worry about paying all the money back.
Truly, it's a great victory for all those loons in the Religious Right who've insisted that since the phrase "wall of separation between church and state" isn't actually in the Constitution, then the concept isn't either.
This isn't any accidental loophole, either; as RightWingWatch explains, it was largely the result of lobbying by rightwing Jesus botherers who know they have a friend in St. Donald of Gilead. In a March 20 conference call with pastors, organized by the Family Research Council, Trump
reminded conservative pastors listening how much he was doing for them and called this year's election day "one of the biggest dates in the history of religion." He was followed on the call by Vice President Mike Pence, and FRC President Tony Perkins pushed Pence to let the pastors "hear it from your own lips" that he and Trump are "very concerned about the economic impact this is having on churches because of their partnership and the key role they play in the community."
"Well, we most certainly are," Pence said, adding that he recognized that when services aren't held due to churches following government social distancing guidelines or local requirements, "there is a portion of that revenue that just by virtue of people's habits and practices doesn't come back." Pence assured them that the administration's team on Capitol Hill would make sure Perkins' concerns were taken care of.
And lo, it was so. The SBA issued an astonishing FAQ to explain that the US government is now in the business of funding churches, regardless of that silly line in the Constitution prohibiting any law "respecting an establishment of religion," because we're only giving churches money, not proclaiming them the state religion. The document seems almost giddy about how previous fig leaves for funding religious institutions have been blown away, clarifying that
faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services. That is, no otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.
The document even commits the SBA to rewriting its existing rules, well beyond this supposedly temporary coronafest assistance, as NPR ' splains :
Under existing SBA regulations, among the for-profit businesses declared ineligible for loans are those "principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting."
Because, you see, if people want government money to preach religion for a profit, it's actually persecution if the government says no. Fortunately, the FAQ promises you'll soon be able to get taxpayer help to set up your Ice Cream Truck Ministry!
The requirements in certain SBA regulations [...] impermissibly exclude some religious entities. Because those regulations bar the participation of a class of potential recipients based solely on their religious status, SBA will decline to enforce these subsections and will propose amendments to conform those regulations to the Constitution.
Elsewhere in the FAQ, the SBA seeks to reassure religious organizations looking for a taxpayer handout that, yeah, there are still some minor "nondiscrimination obligations" the groups might have to agree to, but only during the time when the loan is in effect.
Any legal obligations that you incur through your receipt of this loan are not permanent, and once the loan is paid or forgiven, those nondiscrimination obligations will no longer apply.
Even better, the document clarifies, the rules only apply
to goods, services, or accommodations offered generally to the public by recipients of these loans, but not to a faith-based organization's ministry activities within its own faith community.
So if you're using government money for a soup kitchen or thrift store, say, you can't put up a "WHITES ONLY" sign, but if you get a bailout loan to pay your pastors' salaries, that's an internal matter that only affects your religion, so feel free to be as bigoted as you want.
You have to bet some Aryan Jesus Church of Supreme Whiteness has already gotten its application in.
And while direct government funding of churches is unconstitutional as fuck, these are different times, you see. There will be lawsuits, but don't expect the courts to stop a bit of it, no sir.
"In the last 15 years, the Court has moved increasingly in a permissive direction," says John Inazu, who specializes in religion and law at Washington University in St. Louis' School of Law. "There's just an increased willingness by the court to allow for direct funding of religious entities."
Thank goodness there's a health crisis going on, or people might find the time to be outraged by this crap.
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