FEMA on the Bimah?


courtesy of temple israel

Published December 03, 2012, issue of December 07, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

This is not a new debate. It goes all the way back to when James Madison led the fight against a proposed tax assessment in Virginia that would have, among other things, paid for the creation and maintenance of houses of worship. That was in 1785. The proposal lost. As Ira Lupu and Robert Tuttle wrote in a legal analysis in 2003, “the Supreme Court has frequently looked to this historical episode as a guide to the original meaning of the Establishment Clause, which became part of the federal constitution in 1791.”

Then in the 1971 case Tilton v. Richardson, the court essentially prohibited government construction or repair of buildings used for religious worship or instruction. That case, along with a pair of subsequent decisions, has so far been the last word from the court on this issue.

But Congress and the executive branch have nudged federal officials to be more generous with public funds. So houses of worship may now apply for grants for historic preservation and homeland security — a program that, as the Forward has reported, was essentially crafted to aid Jewish institutions. Another chink in the proverbial wall of separation was carved in 2002, when the Seattle Hebrew Academy was allowed to use federal money to repair a building damaged by an earthquake.

The theory is that the public funding is justified because it’s going to deal with events or obligations outside the institutions’ control — damage caused by flood or earthquake, for example, or the need to protect from potential terrorism. The easy analogy is fire: Should the local fire department not respond to the call from a church when its bell tower erupts in flames, just because it’s a religious nonprofit and doesn’t pay taxes?

Of course the fire department should respond. That’s what a compassionate government does — protects not just the church, but its neighbors. The concept of “neutrality” obligates government to treat houses of worship like other buildings, just as FEMA grants are not skewed to religious organizations but to anyone suffering from the ravages of natural disasters. (This is why the homeland security grants are so problematic, because they are essentially Jewish earmarks.)

But that church or synagogue is not like its neighbors in many respects. Religious institutions hold special privileges even among groups that are qualified as nonprofits and not required to pay taxes.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.