Friday, February 06, 2009

Amendment To Stimulus Bill Defeated; Ban on Constrution Aid for Religious Use Remains

As previously reported, both the House and Senate versions of the economic stimulus bill contain a provision authorizing grants to state higher education agencies for "Higher Education Facilities." However the bill imposes limitations on sub-grants to colleges and universities for renovation and modernization of buildings. No grant may be used for "modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities— (i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission..."

As reported by CNS News yesterday, a number of conservative Christian groups have attacked this provision as discriminatory, arguing that the language is so broad that it could prevent a state university from receiving renovation funds for a building if it permitted a group to hold a worship service in the building.

During debate on the stimulus bill yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint proposed an amendment to eliminate this restriction on grants. (S. Amend. 189). The proposed amendment was defeated by a vote of 43 yes, 54 no, 2 not voting. After the vote, DeMint issued a release captioned "Democrats Vote to Discriminate Against Students of Faith." Blaming the ACLU, DeMint said that the provision remaining in the bill will "in effect bar use of campus buildings for groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, Catholic Student Ministries, Hillel, and other religious organizations." This appears to be something of an overstatement. The bill would preclude grants to renovate buildings used primarily by such groups, but not for other campus buildings. The ACLU says there is nothing novel about this restriction. (Fox News.)