10.20.2005

Bush Sends More Money to Churches, Constitution Be Damned

Bush Administration: Religious Schools Can Get FEMA Aid

from Religion News Service

Washington - Religious schools and faith-based community service organizations that suffered damage during the recent hurricanes are eligible to receive federal disaster grants, the Bush administration said Tuesday.

Despite concerns from groups saying the government shouldn't finance religiously affiliated groups, Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said money will be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for rebuilding facilities damaged in hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Towey said a policy change in 2002 cleared the way for providing such relief. At that time, the Bush administration changed FEMA rules to provide a $550,000 grant to the Seattle-based Hebrew Academy, which was damaged in an earthquake.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans suffered significant damage to its schools. Towey said they will be eligible for FEMA grants after they have exhausted private insurance and have sought low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. He said that other faith-based organizations, including those providing assisted living and critical health care, also would be eligible.

Alyssa McClenning, a spokeswoman for Towey's office, said houses of worship will not be eligible for assistance. "Any facility that is used primarily for inherent religious activities will not be covered," she said.

The plans drew criticism from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has protested the administration's faith-based initiative.

"This policy is incoherent, unworkable, and unconstitutional," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based watchdog group. "Towey and FEMA seem to believe that religious schools aren't primarily religious. What a ridiculous assertion."

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