President Obama signed into law a $787 billion economic stimulus bill that includes a provision authorizing funds for higher education institutions. Some conservative church-state watchers have decried the caveat's language as discriminatory against religious schools.
The bill was approved by both the U.S. House and Senate at the end of last week, including a qualification that federal funds may not be used to renovate facilities "(i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or school department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission."
Last week, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called the stimulus bill "anti-religious." The Christian Coalition said the Democratic Congress is trying to satisfy "anti-Christian whims." Likewise, the Traditional Values Coalition declared that the economic package "stimulates anti-Christian bigotry." The American Center for Law and Justice stated that "this provision has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination." And Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) called the bill "an attack on people of faith," and introduced an amendment that would remove restrictions for giving federal money to religious universities.
However, the language in the stimulus bill is neither new nor unusual, since restrictions have been part of federal higher education policy for over 40 years. Rather than inhibit religion, these restrictions make possible federal funding to religious colleges and universities.
In the final version of the stimulus bill, funds for higher education are included as part of the block grants to states. Not only does the bill state that these funds may be used to ...1