Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Is the Stimulus Package “Anti-Religion”?

Mike Huckabee says the stimulus package is….anti-religion.
Jay Sekulow provides the grist for the charge.
Barry Lynn says it’s an entirely fabricated non-scandal.
I look forward to Jay’s response over at Lynn v. Sekulow
UPDATE: As I understand it, the provision prevents construction dollars from renovating building of primarily a religious nature. That means federal money can’t (and never has been allowed to) build a new chapel on campus. But it can renovate a student center or an academic hall or any other area that has religious ideas or people flowing through it.
Compare that to the floor speech from Senator Jim DeMint:


This is a provision “that would make sure students could never talk openly and honestly about their faith … what this means is that students can’t meet together in their dorms if that dorm has been repaired with federal money and have a prayer group or a Bible study. They can’t get together in their student centers. They can’t have a commencement service where a speaker talks about their personal faith.” … Student groups would be banned and “classes on world religions and religious history, academic studies of religious texts could be banned … Someone is so hostile to religion that they are willing to stand in the schoolhouse door, like the infamous George Wallace, to deny people of faith from entering into any campus building renovated by this bill. This cannot stand!”


This prompted Steve Benen at the to declare, “every sentence — literally, every single sentence — in that paragraph is wrong.” He later offered this pdf of earlier education legislation proving that this language is boilerplate that’s been part of the law for some time. (p. 244)
By the way, I’d assumed this was merely a rhetorical sideshow. It turns out that several conservative religious groups have premised their opposition to the recovery bill on what appears to be a false premise. The Traditional Values Coalition says the bill “stimulates anti-Christian bigotry.” The Christian Coalition calls it an “attack on people of faith.” And the American Family Association declared that “Democrats vote to discriminate against Christians and people of faith.”

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posted February 11, 2009 at 12:34 pm

The stimulus plan states that monies cannot be used for school buildings that used “primarily” for religious reasons (i.e. chapel).
It is the same language that has been in every bill involving money to schools in the last 46 years.
No one complained about it then.
This is politics. This is religious leaders becoming politicians who read everything as a condemnation of religion. They do this to be martyrs or “righteous defenders of the faith”.

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posted February 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm

….Or it might be because they are conservative Republicans continuing nit-picking.

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posted February 11, 2009 at 1:21 pm

omg. The religious right without a fight? nahh.. they’ll find one.

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posted February 11, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Religious Discrimination – Not Economic Stimulus By: Jay Sekulow
“President Obama wasted no time in issuing an Executive Order clearing the way for using federal taxpayer funds abroad for abortion.”
The above statement has been used by several supposedly religious individuals to push their anti-abortion agenda with a false statement. It is against an already existing law.
Others have justified Sekulow’s false statement with since the entities receiving money perform abortions it is possible that the money could be used. The same type of logic could be used for most federal money going to non-federal entities, including states.
I do not know Sekulow’s religion. It embarrasses and angers me to have individuals that call themselves Christian making false or misleading statements. It is an example of the typical hypocrisies that push people away from religion.
While Mike Huckabee sometimes does worthy things for others, he has made many false or twisted statements that also reflect poorly on all Christians. Huckabee’s only example is already a law about taxpayer money for religious schools. Huckabee frequently makes statements that people with financial problems do not need assistance because it is their fault. Irresponsible behavior is sometimes the reason, but it is not always the case, especially under the current financial crisis. His attitude completely ignores important statements made by Jesus about helping the “least of these.” Matthew 25 says a Christian will go to eternal damnation for not helping the least of these.
The individuals making the statements appear to be intelligent people; however, it appears that many do not use logical reasoning about religious issues of importance to them. Many articles on GetReligion make false or misleading statements to push their beliefs. For example, “Abortion reduction” gets some ink” by Mollie demonstrates in the comments that Mollie becomes very defensive at any comments that point out the flaws in her logic. Her defensiveness is typical on any issue dealing with abortion. Most of the authors on GetReligion get very defensive. Defensiveness is a sign of being unable to consider their flaws.
The immoral and unethical statements will continue until others in the religious community take exception with the false or misleading statements. Their silence indicates acceptance.
As a side point, many economist believe that the Senate removed major items that would help create jobs and stimulate the economy. The Republican argue that money going to federal agencies is just more unnecessary spending, but they ignore the fact that the money will be paid to contractors. Federal contractors are frequently small business and minority owned businesses.

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Daniel Weiner

posted February 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Typical grandstanding hyperbole from social conservatives, hoping that rhetoric and jingoism will win the day over a more nuanced examination of the bill, and a more thorough understanding of the Constitution and case law. Should be ignored and marginalized for the kind of bible-thumping, first amendment-abrogating pap that it is.

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Robert Shibley

posted February 16, 2009 at 11:23 am

My name is Robert Shibley, and I am Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), one of the groups that has been concerned about the language in the stimulus bill. There has been a lot of either misunderstanding or deception out there with regard to the provision in the stimulus bill that could limit access to religious individuals or groups. The good news is that so far it appears that the language in question did not make it into the final conference report (the bill that will become law if and when the President signs it tomorrow). The bad news is that it was indeed in earlier House and Senate versions of the bill. I wrote two blog entries on this on FIRE’s blog, The Torch:
and later
I will be doing another follow-up once I can nail down for sure whether the language is out of the bill.
The confusion seems to have been whether the bill would prevent stimulus funding from going to college buildings that were PRIMARILY religious in nature, like churches or divinity schools. This was the main argument of those who said that the bill did not threaten freedom of religion. Unfortunately, the text of the bill did not support this interpretation. Here’s the original language:

(2) PROHIBITED USES OF FUNDS.—No funds awarded under this section may be used for—(A) the maintenance of systems, equipment, or facilities, including maintenance associated with any permissible uses of funds described in paragraph (1); (B) modernization, renovation, or repair of stadiums or other facilities primarily used for athletic contests or exhibitions or other events for which admission is charged to the general public; (C) 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; or (D) construction of new facilities.

Here’s an excerpt of my explanation of why this was problematic:

…it looks as though in an effort to avoid having universities spend stimulus funds on these sorts of structures under different names, the authors of this provision have used language that could also be interpreted as preventing religious activities even in general purpose buildings like auditoriums, student centers, and even dormitories that are open equally to all students.
Members of Congress are mostly long out of college, and may not realize or remember that among the profusion of student groups on campus are many religious groups who carry on Bible, Torah, or Koran studies, small worship services, prayer meetings, and the like in various places on campus—not just in chapels, schools of divinity, or otherwise religiously themed buildings. When I was in college, for instance, my religious student group generally met in the basement of the chapel but we also met occasionally in classrooms and the student center. Dormitory common rooms were another place that religious groups frequently met. One, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, actually met in the lobby of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Religious activity on campus is hardly limited to the buildings designed for it.
That’s why there’s a real risk if Congress enacts language specifying that facilities renovated with stimulus money cannot be “used for sectarian instruction [or] religious worship.” Religious group meetings frequently, if not always, include instruction and worship. I know mine did. I can’t believe it’s the intention of Congress to shut religious groups out of facilities that are used by every other kind of group on campus. Does anyone really think that a fraternity should be able to hold a meeting in the student center while a Bible study group cannot? I hope not, but as currently written, the law can very plausibly be interpreted that way.

I recommend you read my blog entry for the whole explanation, but the main thrust is that the language as it was originally in the bill did NOT say that the facilities renovated with stimulus money had to be primarily used for religious purposes – it just said they could not be used for religious purposes. This is an enormous distinction. When taken literally (which is the only safe way to take a law), saying something can’t be “used” for religious purposes means that you can’t ever use it. And it doesn’t specify who can’t use it for that reason, meaning that if students used it for that reason it might violate the terms of the stimulus bill. If the bill had specified “primarily used,” on the other hand, it would much more effectively designate chapels and divinity schools, etc., as being ineligible for stimulus renovation. Few would have a problem with this, I think.
I hope this is helpful. If you would like to keep up on this and other issues of freedom on campus, I suggest visiting FIRE’s blog at

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posted March 14, 2009 at 10:31 am

Is there any hope that we can hear less of the ad hominem arguments like
“omg. The religious right without a fight? nahh.. they’ll find one.”
from nonbeliever?
What you seem to be saying is that if a “non-believer” questions a policy or practice then that is principled and justified, but if a “believer” does the same it is nit-picking or picking a fight.
The issue here is not how you or I interpret the proposed law now, but how it will be acted upon by university officials in the future, and how courts will respond to lawsuits that will inevitably result. Officials in many universities have often used such language to justify attempts to stifle religious or political speech on campuses. It is very easy for bureaucrats (of which the universities are well supplied)to test the limits of statute language. They may be motivated by hostility towards free speech, fear of litigation, bureaucratic incompetence or all of the above. They may even be motivated by a possibly laudable desire to control what they see as dangerous speech. Whatever their motivation, the act of the government in inserting this language into the law is to create grist for disputes, local regulations and lawsuits.
To the politicians – Leave the language out of the spending bill or make it very clear what the language is intended or not intended to cover. As it is, it creates opportunities for bureaucrats and lawyers to do what they do best – enhance their power over individuals through regulation and litigation.

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posted February 28, 2010 at 8:10 am

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posted June 14, 2010 at 8:26 am

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posted February 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

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posted February 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

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