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.

Atheist Spot Bookmark and Share

15 Responses to “An atheist agrees with government aid to churches”

  1. Philly Chief says “If the city was handing out money to EVERY building owner who applied to spruce up their buildings, then what’s the problem?”

    b@Philly: The problem is in building owners being given free handouts from the city, right?

  2. I agree. If the govt. is handing it out, all should get it. Most atheists try to do exactly what religious folks do — make a government to serve their needs.
    See our post on that at Liberty and Skepticism.

  3. The problem with accepting government (taxpayer) money, is, that then you’re beholding to people in some way. That often leads to compromises of some sort.

    I’m against public funding of churches. They can solicit their members for funds, or do without, in my opinion.

    That’s the scriptural way.

  4. The issue of handouts is something else entirely. For instance, I’m against the whole government aid to charities in the first place. I don’t have an objection to what Detroit did, though. They recognized there would be media attention along with tourists so they wanted to make a positive impression. It’s an investment in the future prosperity of the city. I see it as being little different than using those funds to clean up abandoned buildings and other city blight (which several sections in Philly could use help with).

    Giddy: You have little to worry about, since the government doesn’t seem to care what the hell churches do with money they give them, which is a far worse problem than your churches being beholden to government.

  5. “Giddy: You have little to worry about, since the government doesn’t seem to care what the hell churches do with money they give them…”I don’t know how it works down there, but, up here in Canada, particularly in some municipalities, there is a lot of discretion left to the individual communities. One particular church I am affiliated with, wanted to build an addition, but, the city wouldn’t allow it… UNLESS we paid for the upgrade to some community property (into a playground/outdoor rink) which they, even under public pressure, had no notion of ever doing, themselves. Then we come along, and, well, things changed, mighty fast!

    So, we not only paid for our own addition, but for the park upgrade, as well. Not exactly the same scenario as you presented, though it shows what dealing with government, even on a municipal level, can cost.

  6. The church has to change from within if it wants to survive, Gideon, it has to start exaulting human enginuity and the intellect, it has to start looking to the people whom are on the cutting edge of business, science and technology if it wants to have some sort of revolution in thought. It should start presenting the very history of it’s own books in a historically accurate way along with other historical texts.

  7. … 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.

    Oh, I agree with that paragraph 100%. So your job, if you’d like to advocate in favor of that money going to churches, is to show that the sex shop, the NAMBLA office, the pub, the bowling alley, the tatto and piercing shop — and just regular old apartment buildings and homes in which not-so-well-to-do people live — all got an equal share of the funds for beautifying the city.

    If you can’t demonstrate that, your argument is fucked.

  8. I’d add that churches generally aren’t paying property taxes. The other businesses are at a disadvantage cashwise, and deserve money back from the taxes they’ve already paid. The church can have what’s left over after the other businesses get their tax break.

  9. 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.

    By the same token, the owner of the bowling alley suddenly has funds he would have used for renovations, suddenly freed up for cocaine and hookers. Like you said, thems the breaks.

    @Ex – I don’t think he is advocating for the funds to go to the churches, nor is in on him to prove everyone didn’t get the funds. The city claims funds were for *all* buildings. If someone wants to come in and say they were never given funds, then they should get them. If everyone comes in and says they didn’t get offered funds, except the churches, then AA has something worth screaming about.

  10. Evo:

    Obviously it isn’t “on” Philly to prove anything in this case. However, before opining in favor of what could well be a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state, he should know whether the funds went to everyone who asked for them. If not — if even one person’s business was deemed “unworthy” of receiving public monies — then the state is
    showing favoritism to religious institutions, and, as such, flouting the First Amendment.

    I’d like to know all the facts before taking a position on a specific case like this one. I think in the abstract, Philly may be right: the law on its face does not necessarily violate the First Amendment. But when did the abstract ever operate in the real world?

    I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that there were some businesses that did not get beautification money for which they applied, because they weren’t as “good” for the city’s image as those oh-so-godly churches. And that would be unconstitutional.

  11. “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…”.

    Amazing what you could find if you were to read something in its entirety. :)

    That’s the kind of investigation which should have taken place BEFORE launching into a ‘church got money = sue’ response. AA just rushed in like reactionary fools and, imo, did themselves and the entire fight against churches getting government funds harm by being such fools.

    Evo: Funny, I at one point was going to include something about other businesses having money freed up for hookers and blow, but for some reason didn’t include that. Thanks for filling that in for me.

  12. I was going to point out what DiscordianStooge mentioned: that churches don’t pay real estate taxes on real estate that we taxpayers are helping to fix up. The NAMBLA office, bowling alley, etc. does, so the taxpayers indirectly get a return on their money, by helping to maintain the value of the tax base. Not so with the churches. For them it’s a pure gift, a one-sided transaction (other than the possible benefits society gets in seeing all buildings beautified). So it’s not an exact equation. There is a little more going to churches, inherent in their First Amendment exemption, but that’s probably a different issue.

    Other than that, I agree with you that as long as the same funds are being handed out across the board, there is no favoring of religion. The favoring is in the original tax exemption.

  13. abc

  14. I’m with PhillyChief on this one.

    As an aside, the houes my wife and I bought 9 years ago was previously owned by a Jewish family. Even though I am an atheist, I kept their mezzuza in the doorway, because I felt it was part of the history of my house. However, this past spring, we had a new front door put in, which meant tearing out and replacing the frame, so the mezzuza is gone now.

  15. So are you going to add a big “A” or a Darwin fish as a contribution to the continued history of the house?

Leave a Reply