For several months, Congress has been deliberating and debating the Build Back Better Act, President Biden’s large infrastructure proposal calling for trillions of dollars in spending to revitalize key sectors of the American economy.
The legislation includes provisions that allow states receiving infrastructure and quality grants to apply some of the money toward “activities to improve the quality and supply of child-care services,” such as remodeling or renovations.
Infrastructure legislation may not appear to affect religious liberty, but people of faith must be aware that this bill could negatively affect their freedoms. A subsection of the bill’s text reads:
“Prohibition. A recipient of funds under this subsection may not use the funds for modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities…that are primarily used for sectarian instruction or religious worship; or…in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.”
In other words, the government will grant money to daycares to make improvements for the safety and wellbeing of their kids, unless they operate out of a house of worship or are part of a religious school.
Millions of Americans will have an opportunity to “build back better,” but that promise, under the current text of the legislation, will not extend to religious schools and houses of worship. This is religious discrimination, which is both unconstitutional and illegal.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled (in two separate cases, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer and Espinoza v. Montana) that religious schools and entities cannot be excluded from government programs for which they would otherwise be eligible.
You’d think lawmakers would know better by now than to discriminate against religious communities, but apparently this is a hard lesson for government officials to learn.
The Build Back Better Act banning the use of government funds for religious facilities is simply discriminatory. It puts religious facilities (and the families who choose to send their kids there) at a significant disadvantage compared to the secular counterparts when it comes to keeping up with necessary renovations and improvements.
In practice, this will not present religious Americans, houses of worship or faith-based schools with truly fair or equal treatment.
Discriminating Against Religious Communities Doesn’t Add Up
Not only is it unconstitutional and unlawful to discriminate against religious Americans, it’s also bad policy. Legislation that seeks to burden or place schools or houses of worship at a disadvantage will not help improve our economy, but could instead do more damage than good.
Lawmakers and political leaders should think twice before pursuing actions that target and punish religious communities. Just consider the immense annual impact made by churches, synagogues and faith-based nonprofits nationwide:
It’s clear religious organizations are robust contributors to our nation’s financial wellbeing. Over and over, America’s houses of worship, religious schools and ministries have demonstrated they are essential to the flourishing of our communities. They should be able to participate in government programs equally as their secular counterparts, and the law protects their right to do so.
If the Biden administration truly wants to “build back better,” it would be wise to amend the provisions in its infrastructure bill so that Americans of faith are included. Building a better nation won’t happen on a faulty foundation. America’s lawmakers should be reminded that respecting religious freedom is key to our nation’s structural integrity.