ADL: USAID Proposal a "Step Backwards" for Religious Freedom

New York, NY, May 6, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today urged the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to reject a proposal that would authorize the agency to fund construction of houses of worship with taxpayer money, saying the measure would constitute a "a step backwards" for religious freedom.

The existing rules governing grants involving USAID funds, issued in 2004 by the Bush Administration, contain broad prohibitions against the use of taxpayer funds for the "acquisition, construction, or rehabilitation" of houses of worship. 

"We share the Administration's appreciation for the vital role religious institutions play in addressing humanitarian needs both at home and abroad – and USAID has had a productive partnership with relief organizations affiliated with religious institutions," said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director. "But we believe this USAID proposal to permit taxpayer funding of the construction of houses of worship is a step backwards for religious liberty – unconstitutional, bad for religion, and unwise public policy."

In submitted comments to USAID urging rejection of the proposal, the League said it was "puzzled and disturbed" that the proposal contains elements that ignore or disregard both the adopted findings of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and his November 17, 2010 Executive Order designed to strengthen the capacity of faith-based and neighborhood organizations and enhance their compliance with constitutional and religious freedom principles.

"We are concerned that the proposed rule, which creates a new, untried, expansive standard for constitutional review, could open the floodgates to federal funding for house of worship construction – both at home and abroad," Ms. Lauter added.

USAID is an independent federal government agency that advancesU.S.foreign policy objectives by supporting economic growth, agriculture and trade, global health, democracy, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance.

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