Ms. MCCOLLUM. Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 592.
In this country, we have a strong tradition of coming to the aid of communities that have suffered national tragedies and natural disasters. This is a tradition to be proud of, but H.R. 592 takes an unprecedented and unconstitutional step of adding houses of worship to the list of entities eligible for direct government assistance through Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that direct government aid for houses of worship is unconstitutional. In Tilton v. Richardson (1971) and Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist (1973), the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer funds could not go to buildings to construct or repair facilities intended to be places of worship. Religious institutions are still eligible for federal loans, including small business loans, to help rebuild their place of worship.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in a later ruling (Mitchell v. Helms, 2000), that direct grant government grants to religious institutions brings ``special dangers.'' This danger is not just to the government, but also to the religious institution. Religious freedom is one of our country's most sacred principles. The separation of church and state protects not only the state, but also the church from state interference and restriction. This type of direct assistance, however well intentioned, puts that separation and religious freedom at risk.
Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are often the center of a community; the wish to rebuild as quickly as possible in the wake of a natural disaster is well-intentioned and understandable. However, rebuilding or repairing these houses of worship with direct government assistance, putting their independence at risk, comes at too high of a cost.