Aid After the Storm: Where Is the Church-State Line?

Bobby Lapin and Marc Stern
March 6, 2013

We beg to differ with your March 5 editorial opposing direct grants by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Disaster relief is an expression of social solidarity with victims, not a sophisticated method of transferring responsibility for sustaining religious institutions from the collection plate to the tax collector, the core point of separating church and state.

It is no different from providing police and fire services and sidewalks to religious institutions, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly held does not violate church-state separation.

The law also covers zoos, museums and performing-arts facilities. Allowing government to restore secular cultural institutions, but not houses of worship, to reconstitute communities would rest on an assumption — impermissible under the Constitution — that only secular cultural institutions are essential to functioning communities. That would not rebuild communities but reshape them.

As a rule, government should not finance construction or operation of religious sites. But disaster relief is different, and only a doctrinaire reading of the Constitution would treat it as a forbidden subsidy of religion.

BOBBY LAPIN
MARC D. STERN
New York, March 5, 2013

The writers are, respectively, chairman of the American Jewish Committee’s legal committee and the A.J.C.’s general counsel.

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