President Obama's proposed economic stimulus plan makes a deliberate – and unconstitutional – attempt to censor religious speech and worship on school campuses across the nation, according to a lawyer who argued related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court 20 years ago and won them all.
"This isn't like a convenient oversight. This is intentional. This legislation pokes its finger in the eyes of people who hold religious beliefs," Jay Sekulow, chief of the American Center for Law and Justice, told WND today.
His was the organization that decades ago argued on behalf of speech freedom on school campuses, winning repeatedly at the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then, the 2001 Good News Club v. Milford Central School District decision was added, clarifying that restricting religious speech within the context of public shared-use facilities is unconstitutional.
The problem in the proposed stimulus bill comes from a provision that states: "PROHIBITED USES OF FUNDS. - No funds awarded under this section may be used for - (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."
The wording that specifically targets religious speech already has been approved by the majority Democrats in the U.S. House – all GOP members opposed it. In the Senate, Jim DeMint, R-S.C., proposed an amendment to eliminate it, but again majority Democrats decided to keep the provision targeting religious instruction and activities.
Critics argued schools would accept any money offered, then impose a ban on religious events.
DeMint warned organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, Catholic Student Ministries, Hillel and other religious groups would face new bans on access to public facilities that would not apply to other organizations.
"This is a direct attack on students of faith, and I'm outraged Democrats are using an economic stimulus bill to promote discrimination," DeMint said. "Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for siding with the ACLU over millions of students of faith."
DeMint's comments have been posted online and also are embedded here:
"These students simply want equal access to public facilities, which is their constitutional right. This hostility toward religion must end. Those who voted to for this discrimination are standing in the schoolhouse door to deny people of faith from entering any campus building renovated by this bill," said DeMint.
The senator said the stimulus bill now becomes an "ACLU stimulus" that has the goal of triggering lawsuits "designed to intimidate religious organizations across the nation."
"This language is so vague, it's not clear if students can even pray in a dorm room renovated with this funding since that is a form of 'religious worship.' If this provision remains in the bill, it will have a chilling effect on students of faith in America," he said.
DeMint cited Obama's statement at the National Prayer Breakfast this week that faith "can promote a greater good for all of us."
"This provision is an assault against both. It's un-American and it's unconstitutional. Intolerant and it's intolerable," DeMint said.
The ban on religious organizations is linked to the $3.5 billion intended for "renovation of public or private college and university facilities."
The ACLJ, which focuses on constitutional law, said the provision "has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination."
"The thing is I litigated these cases on these exact issues 20 years ago," Sekulow told WND. "Not only did we win, two of the decisions were unanimous and the other was 8-1.
"We're seeing a rollback to the 1970s regarding church-state relations," he said. "That's what is troubling. It is a complete rollback that now institutionalizes discrimination through targeting religion."
Sekulow said he already is drafting a complaint that will challenge the constitutionality of the provision, to be used if it isn't removed.
He said under current court precedents, it will be a open-and-shut victory.
However, he also warned that the problem is the damage that can be done within the probable four years it would take to get the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court and what that court would look like at that point.
Under Obama, he said, "there will be an ideology shift." New appointments to the bench by Obama, he said, would be "much more left of where Justices (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg and (Stephen) Breyer are."
On an online forums page, readers were incensed.
- "Here comes the assault against Christian churches … Looks like he's trying to see how much damage he can do in the briefest period of time."
- "Obama is the most dangerous man of our times, period. He will seek to overturn everything our nation was built upon, personal freedom, capitalism, even the rock of faith. And he will seek to do it from within, openly, overtly and boldly. Will Christians now respond to this dangerous man in a strong, unified way? Or will Obama succeed in destroying the fabric of the greatest nation in human history?".
- "He's just following the Saul Alinsky rule (in his book, Rules for Radicals) to 'clothe everything you do in morality' because this is what most effectively fools the 'middle class' into agreeing with what you want to do."