Guest / Limited Access /

If any bailout legislation passes, the government will likely hold mortgages purchased from banks and attempt to sell them as soon as their value climbs high enough.

So what happens if the government buys out a bank on the verge of bankruptcy and obtains church mortgages? Would the government be entangled with religion? Would such an arrangement amount to a violation of the First Amendment's bar against establishing religion?

The problem would be in the gap between when the government gets the mortgage and when it is sold, said University of Toledo law professor emeritus Howard Friedman, who raised the question in a blog post last week.

"Having a government-owned church is probably in theory an Establishment Clause problem," Friedman said. "It gets a little more dicey if the church defaulted on the mortgage while the government was holding it — do you give them special consideration? If you don't want to foreclose on them, do you foreclose on one church or not foreclose on another?"

Pre-foreclosure agonies aside, once the government foreclosed, there would not be much of an issue, said Pepperdine University professor of law Mark Scarberry. The Secretary of the Treasury would likely make an effort not to foreclose on churches, he said. But if it did foreclose, it would sell the property to a private owner or evict the defaulting church.

In any case, the government would not end up with long-term ownership of a functioning church. In a worst-case scenario, the congregation would have to move.

"That's already a possibility whenever a church gets a mortgage," Scarberry said. "People have always thought [that] as a matter of public relations it's very difficult for a bank to foreclose on a church."

But it does happen. The Deal ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedAmerica's Founding May Not Have Been Christian, but It Sure Wasn't Anti-Christian
America's Founding May Not Have Been Christian, but It Sure Wasn't Anti-Christian
An atheist philosopher ignores religion’s place in Revolutionary America.
TrendingReligious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It's More Complicated
Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It's More Complicated
The legal context for what's happening at Gordon College, and how Christians can respond despite intense cultural backlash.
Editor's PickMeet the Failed Pastor Who Ministers to Other Failed Pastors
Meet the Failed Pastor Who Ministers to Other Failed Pastors
J. R. Briggs sympathizes with church leaders who don't live up to expectations.
Comments
Christianity Today
After the Bailout, Government-Owned Churches?
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

October 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.