Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) on Wednesday "reluctantly" decried legislation that would allow taxpayer money to be used to rebuild or repair houses of worship following a natural disaster.
"The purpose of the bill is laudable," he said on the House floor. "Unfortunately, it has real constitutional problems."
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013 following Hurricane Sandy. The bill would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to issue direct grants of taxpayer funds to churches and other religious institutions. Currently, houses of worship are eligible for government loans following a disaster, as are other for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations.
Nadler said the legislation would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
"Direct government funding of churches, synagogues, and mosques has always been held to be unconstitutional, and the decisions of the Supreme Court establishing that principle remain good law to this day," he explained.
"The Majority has made a big issue of respecting the Constitution," the congressman added. "We read the Constitution at the beginning of this Congress, and we are required to provide a statement of constitutional authority when we introduce a bill. But all of that means very little if, when faced with a genuinely significant constitutional question, this House instead gives it the bum’s rush."
The bill was passed by a 354-72 vote.
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