I bet that headline got your attention. So what am I talking about? Well first, that atheist is me. Second, I’m talking only about this case where the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Detroit did not violate the establishment clause when they handed three churches money to fix up their buildings.
I agree with the ruling. If the city was handing out money to EVERY building owner who applied to spruce up their buildings, then what’s the problem? I think the American Atheists were foolish to challenge the city, making a knee-jerk reaction to the funds going to churches without viewing the broader context. Now if it could be shown that the churches received a substantially larger amount of money than their buildings warranted, or that the city refused money to other building owners, then they might have something but if the situation is city funds got distributed equally to all building owners, then it doesn’t matter who the building owners are. The sex shop, the NAMBLA office, the church, the pub, the bowling alley, the tattoo and piercing shop all are entitled to the funds. About the only other option the AA could have left is to investigate if the money was all spent for its intended purpose. Surely if they churches took the money and then did nothing to spruce up their buildings, then they could raise a stink.
Now I can already hear another atheist gripe, that the churches receiving funds means it frees up other funds for them to pursue spending on all the other voodoo they do. Yes, that’s a possibility. They may have had funds set aside already for sprucing up their buildings and now with city funds, that money is now free for other church stuff. Unfortunately, that’s the breaks. I just don’t see how you can deny anything to a church which is given to everybody else simply because they’re a church. Should we deny police or fire department services to them, too? That’s taxpayer money.
I’ve gone on record before saying I don’t have a problem with religious charities getting government funding for their charity efforts, provided they applied and competed fairly for the funds (which is why I’m against the Office of Faith Based Initiatives since it flies in the face of fair competition) and that they comply with government rules concerning the use of the funds (ie – used specifically for the charity efforts, must comply to government workplace rules, etc) so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I don’t see anything wrong with what Detroit did. I know a lot of atheists and others have a problem with this position, preferring that no government money end up in a church’s hands under any circumstances. I have to wonder how much of the impetus behind that is an earnest interpretation of the Constitution, and how much is simply pure emotional, knee-jerking response.