Tag archives: Government

The Media Attacks Churches for Getting PPP Loans, But Ignores Planned Parenthood

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Samantha Stahl

July 15, 2020

As reports began trickling in last week about which organizations received coronavirus relief funds, it became known that Planned Parenthood received at least $150 million in funds, and several businesses connected to Members of Congress also received funds. Despite this controversy over which organizations received relief funds, the media has singled out the church as being the most egregious recipient of them all.

The AP recently reported that the Roman Catholic Church lobbied the Trump administration to receive $1.4 billion in coronavirus relief funds and Reuters revealed that several evangelical churches with ties to the Trump administration also received funds. With targeted attacks on faith-based organizations, the media missed several marks about how the program operates and further demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of how religious institutions operate. 

The Media Ignores the Details

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), first passed in the CARES Act, is designed to grant forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofit organizations specifically to keep employees on their employers’ payroll during the coronavirus pandemic. These loans are administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), and because of that it has led to confusion that nonprofits including churches are not eligible. However, the legislation explicitly allows nonprofit organizations to be eligible for the program. The text of the legislation was not initially clear on whether religious nonprofits were eligible or not, so at the request of several Members of Congress, the SBA issued an FAQ document clearly stating that faith-based entities can receive PPP funds.

The program is also very clear on how the funds must be used for forgiveness eligibility. The funds must be used on payroll, mortgage payments, rent, or utilities to qualify for forgiveness; otherwise the funding acts as a normal loan complete with interest and other obligations. This ensures that the funds are directly used to help employees from being furloughed, and that funds are not used on expressly religious activities. Furthermore, this program is open to all faith-based entities regardless of religious affiliation. It does not provide special treatment for Christian or Jewish organizations; even the stridently atheist advocacy group Freedom From Religion Foundation received a PPP loan. This fact alone should help alleviate concerns that the government is somehow violating the establishment clause of the Constitution by unfairly favoring specific churches and religious groups.

The Unique Structure of Churches

However, the main point of contention comes with the affiliation rule that Congress included in the CARES Act. This rule was included so that small businesses or nonprofits that have the same ownership, management, finances, or identity of a larger organization will have their total employees counted together to exclude small organizations that may already have the necessary financial help from a larger umbrella organization. This is the provision which gave the SBA the authority to exclude Planned Parenthood from receiving PPP loans, yet it was not enforced, which lead Planned Parenthood to be given $150 million in funds. It’s also the same provision which some have argued should exclude churches which are affiliates of a larger entity like the Catholic Church.

However, this concern reveals a basic misunderstanding of the structure of religious organizations and has unfortunately led to attacks on churches for supposedly violating this rule. For the most part, churches affiliated with larger entities like the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church operate independently. They raise their own money, take out their own loans, pay their own utility costs, and hire and manage their own staff. In many respects, these churches operate as independent organizations to best serve their local community, resembling the operations of a small business. For example, within the Southern Baptist Convention—the largest Protestant denomination in America—each church is considered autonomous. This is a basic tenet of Baptist ecclesiology; churches can give a percentage of their undesignated receipts to their state convention to support missions and ministries through the Cooperate Program if they choose to, but are not punished or removed from the convention if they do not.

These considerations show that the media’s narrative on churches and the PPP program is not accurate, especially when it comes to churches that are connected to larger affiliate organizations for specifically religious reasons like directing religious teachings or assigning pastors to minister to specific churches. The SBA recognized this in their guidance for faith-based organizations applying for coronavirus relief funds. In fact, the SBA FAQs clearly applies the First Amendment to the program, noting:

If the connection between your organization and another entity that would constitute an affiliation is based on a religious teaching or belief or is otherwise a part of the exercise of religion, your organization qualifies for an exemption from the affiliation rules. For example, if your faith-based organization affiliates with another organization because of your organization’s religious beliefs about church authority or internal constitution, or because the legal, financial, or other structural relationships between your organization and other organizations reflect an expression of such beliefs, your organization would qualify for the exemption.

While it may seem like Planned Parenthood and large religious affiliate organizations like a Catholic diocese have a similar structure and both should be ineligible for PPP loans, only these faith-based institutions are eligible for the religious exemption that is consistent with constitutional and statutory religious freedom protections.

Religion as an Important Public Good

Churches have employees they must continue to pay during the pandemic just like any other for-profit business. In addition to taking care of their workers, churches must also pay interest on mortgages or rent for the space they use as well as utilities to keep the lights on. These requirements have been met by the churches that have lawfully been granted a PPP loan.

Moreover, it is important to realize that churches also play an essential role in ministering to people’s needs. With the shutdown of churches due to COVID-19, many of these mercy ministers have been affected. Outside of the government, the Catholic Church supplies a huge portion of the social services in America, serving millions of people who are suffering now more than ever. In response to the targeted reporting on churches receiving PPP loans, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called the loans an “essential lifeline” for employees and their families. The PPP loans play an important part in the ability of churches to continue their support of their brothers and sisters in Christ, especially during this time of financial instability.

While it is understandable to raise concerns about certain organizations improperly applying for a PPP loan, media hit pieces like the AP article are nothing more than attacks on people of faith and religious organizations. Tragically, lies and falsehoods have a price; in the last few days as the mainstream media has singled out faith-based organizations in their reporting, religious statues have been vandalized and churches have been burned.   

Not only are attacks on churches lawfully applying for aid appalling, the comparative lack of media attention to the fact that Planned Parenthood improperly applied for the PPP loan is astounding. Planned Parenthood is not even remotely close to a small employer since its number of employees dwarf the 500-employee limit for eligibility for the PPP loan, yet they applied for and received millions of dollars in aid while also continuing to lobby for further financial assistance in future coronavirus relief legislation.

This whole situation makes it clear that the media and ruling elites of our country find churches and religious organizations, which often labor quietly for the common good for all of society, more abhorrent than abortion facilities designed specifically to end the lives of innocent human beings. Now is the time for the church and people of faith to stand for what is good and right and push back against a worldview which values the destruction of human life over the salvation of souls. 

Connor Semelsberger is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Samantha Stahl is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

7 Things You Should Know About D.C. Statehood

by Laura Grossberndt

June 26, 2020

The effort to make the District of Columbia a state is in the news again. D.C. statehood is often cited as a solution to residents’ “taxation without [congressional] representation” problem. But is D.C. statehood constitutional? Here are some things you should know about our capital city and the current campaign for D.C. statehood.

1. The seat of government of the United States cannot be part of a state.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution never intended for the seat of the federal government (the “District”) to be contained within a state. Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 states that the District was to be comprised of ceded land. This means the state(s) providing the land for the creation of the District gave up all claims of ownership and authority over said land. Soon after the ratification of the Constitution, Maryland and Virginia each ceded land that would comprise the District. (Although the land ceded by Virginia was later ceded back.)

2. Congress has exclusive legislative authority over the District.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation” over the District. This means Congress has the authority to govern the District’s laws, including its budget. Without this authority, the federal government could be endangered or rendered ineffective in its duty of serving the entire nation.

In Federalist Paper No. 43, James Madison declared Congress’ complete authority at the seat of government an “indispensable necessity.” He and his fellow constitutional theorists knew from personal experience the dangers of the federal government being in any way dependent on a single state. At the time of the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, Congress was situated in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall). When a mob surrounded the State House and demanded payment for the military service they had rendered during the American War for Independence, the Pennsylvania state government refused Congress’ requests for protection. This led to Congress fleeing Philadelphia and eventually choosing a locale for the national capital that would not be contained within a state or surrounded by one state.

3. D.C. residents do not have voting representation in Congress.

Because the District is not a state, nor a part of a state, it does not have voting members of Congress; it only has non-voting delegates. This means the District’s approximately 500,000 registered voters do not have voting representation in Congress. This has generated many policy proposals that seek to create voting representation. D.C. statehood is one of these proposals.

4. H.R. 51 would dramatically reduce the size of the District.

The Washington, D.C. Admission Act (H.R. 51) currently being debated is one measure designed to try to make D.C. a state. It would carve out a smaller federal District, consisting of and limited to the Capitol Building, White House, Supreme Court, and federal buildings and monuments surrounding the National Mall. By dramatically reducing the size of the District in this way, H.R. 51 seeks to circumnavigate the need for a constitutional amendment by only admitting part of D.C. as a state, leaving behind a District that would theoretically still be independent of a state.

However, shrinking the federal District in this way would render congressional authority over the seat of government (in the truest sense) impossible. In such a scenario, the tiny federal District would be entirely surrounded by a “state of D.C.,” and Congress would not even have authority over the streets, necessary public services, and other elements on which it is dependent. The Constitution gives Congress authority to govern the federal District’s laws, including its budget. If the majority of Washington, D.C. were to become a state, it would no longer be subject to this congressional authority. The federal government and foreign embassies would be directly affected by the new state’s budgetary decisions and dependent upon the state for public services. The state of D.C. could grow inordinately powerful and might impose an “awe or influence” over the federal government that Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 43, called “equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the confederacy.”

5. A constitutional amendment is needed to make D.C. a state.

Even with H.R. 51’s reinterpretation of “seat of government,” a constitutional amendment would still be necessary before admitting D.C. as a state. The 23rd Amendment (which grants the District electoral college votes) would need to be repealed—or it would simply be rendered nonsensical (if D.C. were to become a state and the federal District reduced in size, the District’s only residents, the first family, would be the only individuals represented through all three electoral college votes).

6. D.C. statehood would have legislative implications for the entire country.

Knowing what we know from past budgets and laws proposed by the D.C. City Council, a “state of D.C.” would almost certainly support policies that undermine the sanctity of human life and are detrimental to the American family. A state of D.C. would most likely contribute two more votes for such policies in the U.S. Senate (as well as a yet undetermined number of votes in the House), directly impacting millions of Americans nationwide.

7. Statehood isn’t the only possible solution for D.C. voting rights.

Proponents of D.C. statehood like to claim that statehood’s opponents are opposed to D.C. residents’ voting rights. But this is simply not the case. By supporting H.R. 51, House leadership is rejecting other possible paths to securing congressional voting representation for D.C.—ones that would honor the Founders’ intent to keep the federal seat of government non-dependent on a single state. Instead, the backers of H.R. 51 favor a statehood campaign that threatens the federal government’s indispensable authority over its seat of governance while benefitting their own progressive political ends. H.R. 51 is not a solution the Constitution permits.

Governments Are Allowing Unrestricted Protests. So Why Are Churches Still Restricted?

by Laura Lee Caum

June 11, 2020

Since March, churches all over America have suspended in person worship services to comply with social distancing guidelines meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For nearly three months, churches have adapted to alternatives including online services and drive-in services. Surprisingly, a few state and local governments punished those participating in drive-in services by handing out tickets. Despite the challenges, the vast majority of worshippers have abided by social distancing restrictions, longing for the days when they can worship together again.

The same cannot be said of many of the protestors in recent days. After the unjust death of George Floyd in Minnesota, many protestors flooded the streets demanding justice. However, these large gatherings of protestors were in direct violation of CDC guidelines. At the height of the protests, Minnesota’s Department of Health was still officially encouraging its citizens to go out only to “buy food, medicine, and other needed items.”

Since the mass protests, there has been a spike in new coronavirus cases in Minnesota. Violence has greatly increased. A number of businesses in Minnesota have been destroyed and one of their police stations was torched. Around the country, several policemen—both black and white— were assaulted and some even murdered while attempting to maintain order. Despite the public health risks of large protests, government officials throughout the country have allowed the protests to continue (and in some cases participated themselves). And while it is important to underscore the justifiable outrage over George Floyd’s death, the acquiescence of authorities to these protests while churches remain shuttered raises the question of a double standard.

In short, if governors allow thousands of protestors to march in cities around the country, when can churches have in-person services? The CDC has cleared churches to hold services in their buildings. The issue seems to be with some state governments who are explicitly discriminating against churches. One example is in Nevada where Governor Sisolak is restricting church gatherings to 50 or fewer people while permitting casinos and restaurants to open at 50 percent capacity; in some of the larger casinos this means allowing hundreds of people to gather at one time. According to these government mandates, church gatherings must abide by restrictions while secular businesses can serve many guests. Clearly, these decisions violate the religious freedom of worshippers.

Freedom of speech is a cherished principle that must include even unpopular views and opinions. If protestors are permitted to chant, “I can’t breathe,” churchgoers should be allowed to sing, “Amazing Grace.” Protestors should be free to peaceably exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly and churchgoers should be treated no differently.  

Any worshipper will readily admit that church in recent weeks has felt a little different. Church members do not wish to break the law or endanger anyone. They simply wish to worship together. Some outside the church may marvel or be confused about why Christians are so adamant about meeting for corporate worship. The reason is that for followers of Christ, gathering for worship is not a preference, but a command that Christians must obey. The writer of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Though the church is commanded to gather together, government restrictions in many places continue to prevent this from happening. So long as government restrictions are applied equally to all sectors of society, these orders should be followed. After all, Romans 13 teaches that government has been ordained by God. However, it is clear now that the government’s orders are not being applied equally as protestors have been permitted to voice their grievances and stage large gatherings without CDC health guidelines being enforced. Let us meet in the middle: allow protesters to voice their opinion while at the same time permitting church goers to worship together in person.

Finally, churches who dare to open are bending over backwards to abide by and even exceed government guidelines. Pastors are commissioned by God to care for those in their church. State governors should be assured that pastors will take care of their members just as well as a restaurant owner will take care of their guests. To help pastors care for their churches, FRC released a resource titled “Guidelines for Reopening Your Church.” If we are going to protect the right to freedom of speech for protestors, let us safeguard the freedom of religion for those who want to gather for public worship. Only when both free speech and freedom of religion are protected for all will we have a functioning and whole society.

Laura Lee Caum is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

Coronavirus Relief: What Churches and Nonprofits Need to Know About Accessing SBA Loans

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M. , Connor Semelsberger, MPP

April 4, 2020

On April 3rd, lenders began processing Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) relief loans around the country. As authorized by the “Phase 3” coronavirus relief legislation known as the CARES Act, the $349 billion PPP program will grant forgivable Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loans to small businesses and nonprofits for hardship they have suffered under the coronavirus-inflicted economic shutdown. These loans will cover eight weeks of necessary expenses during the coronavirus crisis.

In conjunction with the launch of the program, the SBA published an interim final rule, effective immediately, with further guidelines for lenders and borrowers—including guidance on religious freedom. SBA also issued an interim final rule on affiliation clarifying that faith-based organizations are exempt from SBA affiliation rules if those rules burden religious exercise. Finally, the SBA published a list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) regarding the ability of faith-based organizations to access these loans—and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDL”). These FAQs bring significant clarity to many of the issues discussed below.

What follows are some key considerations for churches to understand and think through when applying for these loans.

Church Eligibility

The final text of the CARES Act and subsequent guidance make clear that a tax-exempt nonprofit organization—described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)—is eligible to apply for relief. Under IRS guidance, the 501(c)(3) definition generally includes churches—even if they have not registered with the IRS—as long as they meet 501(c)(3) requirements. Members of Congress wanted to ensure the program included all churches and houses of worship, even those unregistered churches without a letter of determination from the IRS. To make this clear, a bipartisan group of members headed by Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.) sent a letter to key agencies to clarify that these churches are included within the program. Based on the most recent guidance, we can now say they are included.

Some questions have come up about church eligibility for different types of loans under the CARES Act. The PPP created a new SBA loan program based on existing Section 7(a) small business loans, which changed eligibility to include all 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, which previously were not eligible for these small business loans. It had appeared that EIDL loans, which provide working capital for organizations during a time of declared disaster, were only available for small businesses and private nonprofits, which does not include public charities like churches.

However, the FAQs make clear that faith-based entities can receive both EIDL and PPP loans, and do not need a determination letter from the IRS to do so.

The bottom line: All churches, even unregistered ones, can qualify for both EIDL and PPP loans.

Religious Liberty Concerns for Churches and Religious Nonprofits

Based on the most recent guidance in the interim final rules and FAQs, virtually all religious liberty issues in this loan program have been addressed.

One of the concerns had been requirements reflected on the SBA loan application: “All businesses receiving SBA financial assistance must agree not to discriminate in any business practice, including employment practices and services to the public on the basis of categories cited in 13 C.F.R., Parts 112, 113, and 117 of SBA Regulations. All borrowers must display the ‘Equal Employment Opportunity Poster’ prescribed by SBA.” Certain of these religious and sex nondiscrimination provisions in the SBA code, based on the way courts have interpreted such provisions, could run counter to church statements of faith and hiring practices and violate their faith.

The interim final rule addresses these concerns in part by reiterating religious liberty protections, stating that “all loans guaranteed by the SBA pursuant to the CARES Act will be made consistent with constitutional, statutory, and regulatory protections for religious liberty, including the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The rule also provides for the application of 13 C.F.R. 113.3-1h, an SBA regulation which states that “[n]othing in [SBA nondiscrimination regulations] shall apply to a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society with respect to the membership or the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution or society of its religious activities.”

The problem was that while 113.3-1h is helpful, it does not cover all relevant religious liberty concerns. As attorney Ian Speir, whose practice at Nussbaum Speir Gleason PLLC specializes in churches and religious nonprofits, points out: 13 C.F.R. 113.3-1h mirrors the Section 702 exemption in Title VII. That exemption has largely been interpreted to permit religious preferences in hiring, but not tolerate practices deemed to be other forms of “discrimination.” And “sex discrimination” may include firing an employee for out-of-wedlock pregnancy or for sex-related lifestyle choices contrary to the employer’s faith. Further, if a ministry has fewer than 15 employees, it’s not currently subject to Title VII; but if it takes SBA funds, it will be subject to the SBA’s regulations—so this ministry may find itself subject to new mandates as a result of accepting aid.

In the final analysis, however, any such outstanding concerns remain minimal.

The FAQs make expressly clear that:

  • Faith-based organizations can receive the loans regardless of whether they provide “secular social services.” (As the FAQs say, “no otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”);
  • The religious instruction limitation referenced in 13 CFR 120.110 will not be applied, and will thus not inhibit religious organizations in how they use these loans;
  • Faith-based organizations can use the loans for anything that a secular organization can (no “additional restrictions on how faith-based organizations may use the loan proceeds”);
  • Churches are “not required to apply to the IRS to receive tax-exempt status” in order to access the loans; and
  • Faith-based organizations will not be required to sacrifice their “independence, autonomy, right of expression, religious character, and authority over [their] governance” in order to access these loans.

The FAQs also make clear that religious liberty protections are to be comprehensively applied throughout the loan program:

Consistent with certain federal nondiscrimination laws, SBA regulations provide that the recipient may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, age, or national origin with regard to goods, services, or accommodations offered. 13 C.F.R.§113.3(a). But SBA regulations also make clear that these nondiscrimination requirements do not limit a faith-based entity’s autonomy with respect to membership or employment decisions connected to its religious exercise. 13 CFR §113.3-1(h). And as discussed in Question 4, SBA recognizes the various protections for religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution and federal law that are not altered or waived by receipt of Federal financial assistance. SBA therefore clarifies that its regulations apply with respect to goods, services, or accommodations offered generally to the public by recipients of these loans, but not to a faith-based organization’s ministry activities within its own faith community. For example, SBA’s regulations will require a faith-based organization that operates a restaurant or thrift store open to the public to serve the public without regard to the protected traits listed above. But SBA’s regulations do not apply to limit a faith-based organization’s ability to distribute food or clothing exclusively to its own members or co-religionists. Indeed, SBA will not apply its nondiscrimination regulations in a way that imposes substantial burdens on the religious exercise of faith-based loan recipients, such as by applying those regulations to the performance of church ordinances, sacraments, or religious practices, unless such application is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

A few remaining concerns: It should be noted that these loans do constitute “federal financial assistance” and thus obligate the borrower to comply with any attendant requirements. However, as explained above, the religious liberty concerns regarding those requirements are almost all addressed, and the FAQs make clear that such requirements do not extend beyond the life of the loan in any event.

However, churches may be obligated by state and local nondiscrimination requirements due to taking these loans, a point also observed by attorney Ian Speir. This is likely something that churches will have to consider based on consultations with their attorney or other professionals familiar with the legal landscape in their state.

The bottom line: While a few, smaller concerns remain, churches and other faith-based entities can be generally confident their religious freedom will be protected in this loan program.

What to Know When Applying for These Loans

After weighing all these considerations, churches and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees (or those who qualify under the interim final rule on affiliation) that want to apply for PPP loans can find information on the SBA website. To begin, interested organizations must find a local bank or credit union that is eligible to administer these loans. The SBA is working on adding many new lenders to expand the reach of the program. To apply with the lender, the organization must fill out this application form and provide payroll documentation. If approved, the lender will work to administer the funds promptly, with the goal of them being available the same day.

This program is administered as a loan, but if the funds are used on essential payroll expenses, it will essentially act as a grant, and the loan amount will be forgiven in full. Churches considering applying for the PPP loan should keep these key facts in mind:

In order to get forgiveness, the organization must use the loan for:

  • Payroll costs, including benefits;
  • Interest on mortgage obligations, incurred before February 15, 2020;
  • Rent, under lease agreements in force before February 15, 2020; and
  • Utilities, for which service began before February 15, 2020.

Payroll costs include:

  • Salary, wages, commissions, or tips (capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee);
  • Employee benefits including costs for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave; allowance for separation or dismissal; payments required for the provisions of group health care benefits including insurance premiums; and payment of any retirement benefit;
  • State and local taxes assessed on compensation.

Requests for loan forgiveness will be submitted to the lender. They will include documents that verify the number of full-time equivalent employees and pay rates, as well as the payments on eligible mortgage, lease, and utility obligations. An organization will owe money on the loan if it is used for anything other than payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments over the eight weeks after getting the loan. No more than 25% of the forgiven amount may be for non-payroll costs.

There are also requirements to maintain payroll and staff:

  • Number of Staff: Loan forgiveness will be reduced if the number of full-time employees is reduced.
  • Level of Payroll: Loan forgiveness will be reduced if salaries and wages are reduced by more than 25 percent for any employee that made less than $100,000 annualized in 2019.
  • Re-Hiring: Employers have until June 30, 2020, to restore full-time employees and salary levels for any changes made between February 15, 2020, and April 26, 2020.

If the organization must pay back any loan amount, it will be paid back with 1 percent interest. All payments are deferred for six months; however, interest will continue to accrue over this period. The loan will be due in two years.

EIDL loans are another option for nonprofit organizations to consider if they have been met with financial hardship. This program provides eligible organizations with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide necessary economic support. Eligible organizations that need immediate help replacing lost revenues, can receive an advance of up to $10,000 that will not have to be repaid. Those interested in applying for EIDL loans can do so here.

It can be challenging to determine whether it is in your organization’s best interest to apply for federal financial programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. The coronavirus crisis has brought the American economy to a standstill, and many nonprofit organizations are struggling with financial instability. However, government aid programs that may help organizations financially may also come with some unintended consequences. Fortunately, Congress has intended to make the PPP open to religious organizations in the same way small businesses are—without additional government stipulations that dramatically change how religious organizations operate. The FRC team will continue to work alongside allied organizations to ensure that the congressional intent of the CARES Act (to not discriminate against religious organizations for financial aid) is carried out when implementing programs like the PPP.

To help the church navigate these and other challenges we are confronted with due to the coronavirus, we have created a resource page at FRC.org/church. Please visit us there and let us know how else we can be of help.

The Rich History of American Prayer in Times of Calamity

by Zachary Rogers

April 2, 2020

O God, merciful and compassionate, who art ever ready to hear the prayers of those who put their trust in thee; Graciously hearken to us who call upon thee, and grant us thy help in this our need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” - A Prayer in Time of Calamity

The United States faces a rapidly developing coronavirus crisis that is testing our form of government, the social and health infrastructure we have built, and the solidarity of individuals at the local level. It is in times such as these that the true mettle and spirit of a people is revealed. It is a time for prayer. Thankfully, the United States has a long history of appealing to Heaven in times of crisis, calamity, and now COVID-19.

President Trump recognized this and the necessity of our times. Therefore, on March 13th he tweeted:

It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer. We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these…

This action is not an aberration in U.S. history but a reflection of the blessings of God upon America, which many previous presidents have done. The prominent influence of prayer is clear throughout U.S. history.

On 16 March, 1776, the Continental Congress issued a fast proclamation. Mr. William Livingston brought forward a resolution for a fast, asserting that in times of impending calamity men must recognize the sovereignty of God, confess their sins, and request His blessing. Colonials were called to a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer.” Congress agreed to this resolution.

George Washington also recognized the role of Providence in the birth of the nation, as well as the important role of religion and morality in American life. During the American War of Independence, when he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he concurred with the call of Congress for another day of prayer and fasting. To encourage and allow his men to do so, he forbade all unnecessary labor and recreation.

This understanding of God and the universe can clearly be seen in the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation when Washington in his duties as president recognized Thursday, November 26, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. His proclamation in part reads:

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord.

Here, we see a call to all Americans, commissioning them to eagerly ask the Lord to enable everyone, civil servant or citizen, to perform our duties to each other, to our states, and to the nation. We can do no more. We should do no less.

One of the best examples of a national day of prayer in the history of the nation came from President Lincoln, who signed “A Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day” on March 30, 1863. This proclamation recognized the sovereignty of God, the necessity of repentance, and the need to ask for forgiveness.

In 1952 President Harry S. Truman signed into law a joint resolution of Congress establishing an annual day of prayer for the “people to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

We should remember that God governs in the affairs of men, from the time of the Israelites, when He answered many prayers for the tribes of Israel, to the American Revolution when our Forefathers fought the mightiest empire known to man and, despite losing many battles, won the war. When we thank God, we should also thank Him for a free country in which we can have a day of prayer. It is important to remember the constitutional point that a National Day of Prayer neither establishes a state religion nor impedes religious practice.

America has a strong Judeo-Christian heritage, and this is reflected in our history of appealing to God in times of strife and calamity. Let us do so now while not neglecting to do all the good we can. The time is now and it is our duty to do so. Here is “A Prayer for Congress”:

Most gracious God, we humbly beseech thee, as for the people of these United States in general, so especially for their Senate and Representatives in Congress assembled; that thou wouldest be pleased to direct and prosper all their consultations, to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, the safety, honour, and welfare of they people; that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations. These and all other necessaries, for them, for us, and thy whole Church, we humbly beg in the Name and mediation of Jesus Christ, our most blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Zachary Rogers is a graduate of Hillsdale College and is a former intern of FRC, the Kirby Center, and the Claremont Institute. He is currently working in education in Northern Virginia.

How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 3)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

April 1, 2020

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Despite many speedbumps, and several self-inflicted roadblocks—including House Democrat attempts to pass their ideological wish list—members of Congress from both sides of the aisle eventually came together to pass the most recent coronavirus relief bill. On Friday, March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is the third phase of coronavirus response legislation. This $2 trillion law is the largest relief package ever passed by Congress, demonstrating the powerful forces unleashed by the coronavirus and drastic congressional response—including from some typically fiscally conservative members. Indeed, we are facing a public health and economic emergency of the likes most of us have never seen. Here is a look at how this legislation will impact you and your family.

Direct Payments

The signature policy in the CARES Act, first proposed by the Trump administration, is a tax rebate that will be sent directly to families to help cover essential costs during this crisis. As a result of this bill, all Americans with an annual income of $75,000 or less will receive a direct payment of $1,200. For married couples with an income of $150,000 or less, this payment will double to $2,400. Families with dependent children will also receive an additional $500 per child. This policy was also adapted from a previous draft, to provide the full $1,200 rebate to those with little or no income. If you are someone who makes over the $75,000 threshold, you will still be eligible for a partial rebate. This rebate will be reduced by $5 for every $100 over the cap and will be completely phased out at incomes of $99,000 and above.

The great news is, if you have filed a previous tax return, there is no action required to receive the rebate. For Americans who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will rely on those returns to determine eligibility. If you have not filed for 2019, they will use 2018 returns. Even though the president signed the bill on Friday, the earliest families can expect to see these rebates is in three or four weeks, according to some estimates. The rebate will be sent via direct deposit if the IRS has that information from a tax return. If the IRS does not have direct deposit information, it will mail a physical check, which may take a few weeks longer to arrive.

Sending tax rebates directly to Americans is not something unique to the current situation. During the 2008 recession, President George W. Bush issued tax rebates of $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples to help stimulate the economy. The tax rebates in the CARES Act are not only higher than in 2008 but will be sent out much sooner due to the IRS’s ability to work through logistics faster. This policy cements and incentivizes family structure, as there is no penalty on married couples, giving them double the individual amounts. It also functions as an additional child tax credit, giving more money for each child a family has. For the average family of four, this tax rebate will equate to a $3,400 check providing immediate financial help.

For those with a greater financial strain, who may need to draw from their retirement funds, there is additional help. As done in previous emergencies, if someone withdraws no more than $100,000 from their retirement account for coronavirus-related reasons, the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty is waived. The taxes that would otherwise be collected on that withdrawal can be paid out over the next three years.

Unemployment Insurance

In addition to the rebate checks, the CARES Act provides $250 billion to expand unemployment insurance to help those who are without work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This bill creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Program that will run through the end of the year. This program will provide extended financial assistance, enabling those without work to make monthly payments for food, rent, and other necessities. The program provides unemployment benefits for those who do not usually qualify, including religious workers, the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. It also covers the first week of lost wages in states that do not cover the first week a person is unemployed and provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment for those who remain unemployed beyond the weeks provided by the state.

Another valuable expansion is that all recipients of unemployment insurance will get an additional $600 a week beginning in April and lasting for the next four months. This addition was not without controversy, as several Senate Republicans objected to this addition because of the potential for a perverse incentive for those who might make more on unemployment insurance than they would by working. Ultimately, given the negotiating dynamics and tight timeline, this provision was not fixed. Looking to pass this bill quickly, the Trump administration was willing to accept this provision, and the bill passed the Senate with unanimous support.

To view your state’s unemployment policy and apply for unemployment insurance, go to this helpful database provided by the Department of Labor.

Housing Assurance

In a public health crisis that requires families to remain quarantined in their homes, it is critical that current housing situations remain secure. For families who own a home and make mortgage payments, the CARES Act prohibits foreclosures on any federally-backed mortgages for 60 days. It allows borrowers affected by the coronavirus to push off any missed payments to the end of their mortgage with no added penalties or interest. To help families who make rent payments, it halts evictions for those renting from properties with federally-backed mortgages for 120 days. The Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided guidance for how homeowners and renters can respond to financial hardships.

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will coordinate these federal housing policies. He has been a vocal leader throughout the coronavirus outbreak, promoting faith and families. On March 20, Secretary Carson joined President Trump and Vice President Pence on an FRC conference call to pray with 800 pastors. On the call, Secretary Carson reminded the pastors that despite the uncertainty facing our country, God’s hand is guiding us.

Education Policies

The coronavirus outbreak has affected education across the country in many ways. Many schools have been directed to close their doors, replacing in-person classes with at home and online learning. Because of these changing dynamics, the CARES Act waives the federal testing requirements that students take in a typical school year. It also provides additional funding for K-12 schools to adapt to at home-learning and gives increased flexibility for how grants can be used for technology and other actions needed to adapt to the coronavirus situation. Private schools can also access these additional funds.

Many parents today also face the challenge of balancing student loan payments with other essential payments like rent and food expenses. To ease the financial burden of making student loan payments, the CARES Act suspends federal student loan payments for the next six months, and no interest will accrue on federal loans during these six months. The Department of Education has more information on which federal loans qualify and how these policies will be implemented.

The coronavirus’s impact on the public health and the economic stability of or country is something not seen for nearly a century. President Donald Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force have taken strong actions to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health of many. However, the crisis has resulted in unintended financial burdens on many families across the country. Members of Congress and the Trump administration worked together to negotiate a strong economic response that truly puts families first—a welcome sight in the typically-rancorous partisan political environment on Capitol Hill. The FRC team continues to engage members of Congress and the administration to ensure that faith, family, and freedom will remain protected even as our country responds to the coronavirus.

For more on how the coronavirus relief legislation specifically benefits churches and nonprofits, see our blog here.

How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 1)

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

March 20, 2020

As the coronavirus has spread across the nation, our federal government has responded in a number of ways to address the damage inflicted by it. Part of that response has been legislative. This series will examine the different coronavirus response bills coming out of Congress, and how FRC has worked to advance faith, family, and freedom in this process.

On March 6th, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the first in what has become a series of measures addressing the growing coronavirus crisis. This bill’s $8.3 billion price tag might seem steep, but it is the first major step in increasing funding for critical health care services and developing a vaccine. 

The largest pot of money, $3.1 billion, was appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for testing and treatments for those affected by the virus. It also invests in vaccine development so that scientists can develop a good vaccine in a shorter amount of time. Of this funding, $100 million will be directed to Community Health Centers (CHC). CHCs are critical components of our health care system, specifically designed to care for low-income families. These centers receive federal funding that cannot go toward abortions and therefore are an excellent pro-life alternative to Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities.

H.R. 6074 also directly provides $950 million to state and local governments to help slow the spread of this virus and treat those in need. A key provision states that half of these funds must be allocated within 30 days. There can be lots of requirements that slow the use of funds transferred from the federal government to the states, so this 30-day provision is critically important. As we have seen, the ways to effectively respond to this virus change so rapidly that states and local governments must be equipped to provide the necessary health care needs to combat this virus. The more the federal government can assist and bolster local and state response, the better. Governors and mayors will have the best insight into how the coronavirus has affected their local community and how additional funding can be used to stop the spread of this virus.

Lastly, H.R. 6074 includes a provision that allows HHS Secretary Alex Azar to make any vaccine that is developed or purchased with these funds affordable for all Americans. With a coronavirus vaccine in such high demand, there is a concern that the developer could price the vaccine in such a way that it is unaffordable for the average American. This provision ensures that no matter your family’s economic situation, you will have access to this potentially life-saving treatment.

As the federal government continues to act quickly in response to the spread of the coronavirus, the FRC team will continue to track and monitor legislation related to this rapidly-shifting threat to ensure that human life and dignity are valued, the family is supported, and religious liberty is protected.

Prayer Point #2: Pray for Government Leaders

by David Closson

March 20, 2020

The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, our entire way of life has been upended by a novel virus that health experts say presents a particular risk to our elderly and immunocompromised friends and neighbors.

As Christians, we know that one of our greatest spiritual weapons is prayer (Eph. 6:18). But what exactly should Christians pray about amidst these trying times? FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, recently released nine prayer points to guide us in prayer. Each point provides a specific way for Christians to pray during the ongoing crisis. In this blog series, we’ll be unpacking these points for you a bit more as we pray for an end to the coronavirus.

Christians are called to pray for those in positions of authority at all times (1 Tim. 2:2). This is especially true during a national emergency. Pray for President Trump, Vice President Pence, governors, mayors, and all those making decisions related to public health and safety. Pray for a spirit of bipartisanship as lawmakers work together to protect people.

As the world faces mounting social and economic pressure related to the spread of the coronavirus, Christians need to pray for those who are responsible for crafting their nation’s response. In the days ahead, government leaders will have to make difficult decisions regarding public health and safety. They will have to make decisions about the economy, as the markets continue to fluctuate, and businesses and non-profits face an uncertain financial future. Decisions about transportation, education, the use of public facilities, and upcoming elections must be made as well.

Trying times require wisdom. And those making decisions at the highest levels of government need divine wisdom as they make decisions that affect millions of people. As Christians, we know God calls us to pray for our political and civil leaders. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Christians should pray for our government leaders every day—especially in the current crisis.  

Christians should commit to frequently praying for the following leaders:

  • President Trump
  • Vice President Pence
  • Secretary Alex Azar (HHS)
  • Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Treasury)
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)
  • The White House Coronavirus Task Force
  • Governors and mayors across the country
  • All health care workers and public health officials

Specifically, we should pray they’ll have the wisdom to process all the information they receive about the virus, courage to make the right decisions, and stamina as they work long days. We should also pray for their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. And we should pray for the families of these leaders who are making tremendous sacrifices as well.

We should also pray for government leaders around the world as they fight the coronavirus in their own countries. We should pray that leaders will work together in a spirit of cooperation. And along these lines, we should pray for a spirit of bipartisanship as American lawmakers work together on legislation designed to help and protect people. Pray Republicans and Democrats put partisan politics aside and unite in common purpose to address a wide range of issues.  

A powerful verse on the power of prayer is James 5:16. In this verse, James writes, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). James’ encouragement to Christians is that our prayers are powerful and effective. God promises that He hears and acts on the prayers of His people (Psalm 34:15). Claiming these promises, let’s lift up our government leaders in prayer during this crisis.

Trump’s Office of Civil Rights is Becoming a Beacon of Freedom for the American People

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

December 5, 2019

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has once again taken action to protect Americans, this time from disability discrimination. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) initiated an investigation into the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) upon learning that two small children were removed from a mother and father simply because the mother and father had a disability. The children were removed shortly after their birth based on the assumption that the parents would not have the ability to care for the children because of their disability, stripping away their parental rights.

Since the Oregon policy assumed from the children’s birth that a disability prevented the parents from caring for their children, they had to undergo psychological evaluations and participate in parenting classes to prove that they were fit to be parents. Thanks to a local county circuit court dismissing the neglect petition, the parents were finally able to be reunified with their children. If the county court had not stepped in, the Oregon Health Department would not have reunited the family.

These actions prompted OCR to convey major concerns to ODHS with how policies to prevent discrimination against parents with disabilities were being implemented in Oregon. Fortunately, the Oregon health department agreed to comply with federal disability rights laws and update its policies and procedures to create a new disability rights training plan. It is very unfortunate that these parents in Oregon had to go four years without custody of their eldest child simply because state officials decided their disability prevented them from being proper parents without any evidence to prove so. Thankfully, the Office of Civil Rights at HHS investigated this case and worked with the state of Oregon to make systemic changes to their child custody policies so that future parents with disabilities will not have their parental rights taken away.

From enforcing conscience protections for nurses who object to performing abortions, to preventing further sexual abuse at Michigan State University, this is just another example of how President Trump’s HHS has followed through with enforcing all federal anti-discrimination laws, not just ones that fit into his political agenda. An administration should not get to pick and choose which civil rights laws to enforce, but unfortunately there are many federal civil rights laws that are not prioritized and are even forgotten due to political reasons. For example, in 2011, the Obama administration issued new regulations to limit the number of federal conscience protection laws that would be enforced by HHS to only three. This is in stark contrast with a new Trump administration regulation currently pending in the courts to enforce 25 existing conscience protection laws.

Protecting Americans from all types of discrimination has been a priority of the Trump administration from the beginning. Examples like this parental rights case demonstrate that if someone who believes they have been discriminated against files a complaint with OCR, the administration will follow the appropriate civil rights laws and take all complaints seriously.

Pro-Life Title X Rule Upheld, For Now

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Mary Jayne Caum

June 21, 2019

On a recent humid June day in the nation’s capital, the debate over President Donald Trump’s Protect Life Rule governing the Title X Family Planning Program heated up. Led by Chairwoman Diane Degette (D-Colo.), the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to promote the continued relationship between these family planning funds and the abortion industry. Dr. Diane Foley from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defended the Protect Life Rule against attacks that this rule change will limit a woman’s ability to receive proper family planning services, by ensuring that doctors can continue to provide non-directive counseling on all healthcare options as the statute lays out.

As a key pro-life issue for the Family Research Council, we submitted a letter to the record outlining specifically how this final rule draws a clear line between family planning funds and the abortion industry without reducing the quality of care for each patient.

Dr. Foley went even further to say that the Protect Life Rule will provide a broader array of family planning services by encouraging innovative approaches for care in rural communities and removing the abortion referral requirement, thus allowing faith-based providers to apply for Title X grants, as outlined in our brief on the Protect Life Rule. Although Dr. Foley continually reminded the subcommittee that the Title X statute specifically states abortion cannot be used as a method of family planning, Democrat Members could only see the issue through the lens of abortion access. Rep. Jan Schakowky (D-Ill.) put it most bluntly when she said, “This is about abortion, this is about trying to limit women from having their full reproductive rights.”

Within 24 hours of the subcommittee hearing on Title X, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit granted HHS’s motion to stay the preliminary injunction, which would allow the Protect Life Rule to go into effect until the lawsuit is resolved. While this Order does not decide the fate of the Protect Life Rule, the Court’s Order was encouraging. Typically, the 9th Circuit has been critical of the Trump administration’s policies. As exemplified by the lower courts granting preliminary injunctions to halt the implementation of the Protect Life Rule, courts will often ignore the law to advance a political agenda.

Surprisingly, the 9th Circuit lifted the nationwide preliminary injunction and insisted that delaying the implementation of the Protect Life Rule would be detrimental to both HHS and the American public. Listening to the concerns expressed by HHS, the Court feared that if the preliminary injunctions remained in place, the law would be violated and taxpayer money would fund abortions. Moreover, the Court concluded that HHS would likely be victorious in this lawsuit.

Additionally, the Court reaffirmed the validity of Rust v. Sullivan (a Supreme Court case which upheld regulations nearly identical to the Protect Life Rule). Furthermore, the Court emphasized that the restrictions on abortion referrals does not violate the non-directive counseling requirement. Although Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to claim the Protect Life Rule violates existing law, the Order from the 9th Circuit states otherwise. Hopefully, this temporary win for the Protect Life Rule will be a sign of what is to come from the ongoing legal battle.

Connor Semelsberger is Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. Mary Jayne Caum is a Policy intern at Family Research Council.

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