Sunday, March 09, 2014

Maryland state bonds would fund sectarian religious activity

By Mathew Goldstein

Churches and masonic lodges are privately owned and operated religious facilities, they are not places of public accommodation. They have a first amendment right to close their door on anyone who tries to enter their facilities for any reason or for no reason.  A church or masonic lodge that opened their door to the public yesterday could abruptly change their policy and close their door tomorrow.

The state of Maryland nevertheless is granting itself the power to decide to provide loans to such religious facilities by issuing state bonds backed by taxpayer money.  The text of the bond bills declare that any facility being funded this way not be a place of sectarian worship or instruction.  This non-sectarian standard is interpreted narrowly by some lawmakers as exemplified by two pairs of bond bills being considered by this year's General Assembly. House bill 1498 and Senate bill 498 is titled Creation of a State Debt – Baltimore City – SS Philip and James Church Hall Renovation and Repair.   House bill 1477 and Senate bill 965 is titled Creation of a State Debt – Prince Hall Grand Lodge.  

The church hall is utilized for "LEARNING FROM THE BIBLE: Biblical Talks" by Fr. Stephen Ryan that covers topics like “AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH: BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON MARRIAGE”.  It is the meeting place for KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS COUNCIL #14102 and for SSPJ PRO-LIFE.  The Mason lodge states on its web page that "no atheist can be a Mason". There is no evidence in the online calendars of either group that either building is utilized by the general public or is intended to be utilized by the general public.

Furthermore, Senate bill 22 and House bill 1387 is titled Creation of a State Debt – Anne Arundel County – Calvary Food Bank. Pastors at the Calvary Food Bank give a religious sermon to the people who are waiting to receive food.  Despite the Calvary church blatantly mixing their religion with the charity, the state Department of Human Resources gives the food bank grants to buy food.

The non-sectarian standard, even if it were to be enforced, is too weak.  Government cannot discriminate or proselytize, and it is inconsistent for government to bypass these restrictions by assisting with funding of building repair, renovation, and improvements for private organizations that discriminate or proselytize.  The prohibitions on government sponsored discrimination and proselytizing are bypassed when government funds "non-sectarian" third parties to do indirectly what government cannot do directly.  Yet in Maryland it appears that even the current weak non-sectarian standard is not being fully respected.

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