Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of downtown Manhattan is unhappy with a new Republican bill passed by the House of Representatives to provide federal funding to non-profits tied to religious organizations. Nadler argued that the bill is unconstitutional.
The bill passed the House on Wednesday by a 354-72 margin.
The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act was introduced by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, to ensure that the needs of places of worship or organizations with religious ties aren’t left out in the cold in rebuilding, The Raw Story reports.
The Jewish Press’ Lori Lowenthal Marcus reported on February 13 that after Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of New York City and the surrounding communities last fall, many synagogues and other houses of worship became distribution centers for material goods and spiritual relief to those affected. Many of those buildings sustaining enormous damage from the storm. But because those types of non-profits are not specifically mentioned in the authorizing legislation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been unwilling to provide them with available relief funds.
The Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs and the National Council of Young Israel asked constituents to call their federal legislative representatives and tell them to vote in favor of legislation that will solve the problem: HR 592, the “Federal Disaster Assistance NonProfit Fairness Act of 2013.”
The bill makes “a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, eligible for federal contributions for the repair, restoration and replacement of facilities damaged or destroyed by a major disaster.”
“Direct government funding of churches, synagogues and mosques has always been held to be unconstitutional,” Nadler said. “The purpose of the bill is laudable. Unfortunately, it has real constitutional problems.”
(See: Protecting Religious Freedom by Rep. Nadler, which appeared in The Jewish Press print edition)
Rep. Nadler accused the Republicans of hypocrisy.
“The Majority has made a big issue of respecting the Constitution,” he said in the Raw Story report. “We read the Constitution at the beginning of this Congress, and we are required to provide a statement of constitutional authority when we introduce a bill. But all that means very little if, when faced with a genuinely significant constitutional question, this House instead gives it the bum’s rush.”
Current law allows for houses of worship and religious organizations to file for federal loans to rebuild after disasters. The new bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law, would allow for direct grants to these facilities.