The House of Representatives voted by a wide margin to approve the use of federal funds to repair and rebuild religious institutions damaged by Superstorm Sandy, according to a report by the New York Times.
Receiving intense lobbying by Catholic and Jewish groups, the bill was passed 354-to-72. Support for the measure was largely bipartisan, while opposition consisted of 66 Democrats and six Republicans. The Times laid out the scope of the bill’s language:
Under the bill, “a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization,” would be eligible for federal disaster assistance “without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”
According to the Times, FEMA raised serious objections to the bill, issuing a memorandum claiming that its passage represents an “enormous departure” from current law.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Coney Island, Borough Park and Bensonhurst, opposed the bill on grounds that using taxpayer money to fund the reconstruction and furnishing of religious buildings was unconstitutional.
Nadler’s opposition potentially foreshadows a legal showdown between civil liberty groups and religious advocates in the near future:
The American Civil Liberties Union agreed [with Nadler], saying it was a bedrock principle of constitutional law that “taxpayer funds cannot go to construct, rebuild or repair buildings used for religious activities.”
Lawyers at the emergency management agency expressed concern about possible lawsuits by the civil liberties union and others. “FEMA expects that well-financed and aggressive litigation and injunctions would quickly follow enactment of this bill,” agency lawyers said in their memorandum.