Breaking: Stimulus still anti-Christian

Social conservatives are angry about a provision of the bill they claim is discriminatory; an attempt to remove the language has failed in the Senate.

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 6, 2009 12:55AM (EST)

The secular progressives have struck yet another blow in their constant fight against traditional American values.

As I wrote in a post on Wednesday, Christian conservatives are up in arms over this language contained in the stimulus bill, which they claim is discriminatory and unconstitutional:

No funds awarded under this section may be used for... 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.

Opponents say the provision in question prohibits stimulus funds from going to religious schools or even to fund any building in which a Bible study might be held. So Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who'd said that the wording in the bill "is an attack on people of faith" and that "Democrats are looking for every opportunity to purge faith and prayer from the public square," introduced an amendment that would strip the controversial provision from the package.

Thursday night, the amendment went down to defeat, 54-43. Three Democrats -- Evan Bayh, Byron Dorgan and Ben Nelson -- crossed the aisle to vote in favor of DeMint's proposal, joined by Connecticut's Joe Lieberman. Only two Republicans, Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, voted against it.

Of course, as I noted in that previous post, the opponents of the language have been misreading it, claiming it's much broader than it actually is. (The funding can go to religious schools, and it can be used for buildings in which, say, Bible study is held, as long as that's not a "substantial portion" of what the building is used for.) Plus, the language is not discriminatory -- it's actually pretty standard fare for appropriations bills -- and it has previously been upheld in court.

In fact, the amendment wouldn't even have accomplished anything if it had passed. The kind of funding described in the controversial section wouldn't be allowed anyway; it's unconstitutional under the "Lemon test," a standard the Supreme Court set in its landmark ruling Lemon v. Kurtzman.

Still, the results of the vote -- and the reality of the situation -- apparently won't deter one of the people arguing most strenuously against the language in the bill. On the Web site of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow, the group's chief counsel, wrote, "If this language remains in the stimulus package that’s ultimately approved by Congress, we will challenge this provision in federal court by filing suit. This provision has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Jim Demint R-s.c.