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.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueHow the Prophet Habakkuk Built an Anti-Fragile Faith
Subscriber Access Only
How the Prophet Habakkuk Built an Anti-Fragile Faith
Lessons on worshiping a consistently unpredictable God.
RecommendedBearing Burdens After Obamacare: The Future of Christian Healthcare Sharing
Bearing Burdens After Obamacare: The Future of Christian Healthcare Sharing
The Affordable Care Act put Christian insurance alternatives on the map. What happens to them when it goes away?
TrendingAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
Editor's PickMy Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.
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.