By MICHELLE CHAMBERLAI
A nationwide group has announced its opposition to the Clinton administration’s loan guarantee program for churches that have been destroyed by fire recently.
Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, said the loan program is a clear violation of the First Amendment, involving state-church separation.
“About 1 percent of the arson attacks committed in the United States each year involve churches. This program uses public funds to guarantee loans to religious organizations and so involves the use of taxpayer funds to aid religion,” Johnson said in a news release.
Johnson condemned the arson and violence against churches, but she said it is unfair for Clinton to ask the 10-15 percent of Americans who are atheists, agnostics and others not involved in organized religions to subsidize the construction of buildings for religious exercise.
Johnson said the Constitution specifically enjoins the government from aiding or subsidizing religion and its purposes.
“It is clear that in proposing this taxpayer-funded program to aid churches, (Clinton) is clearly promoting a religious agenda,” Johnson said.
Spike Tyson, director of American Atheists, said he feels this is a political movement for Clinton. “He is making the best of this, and he wants to push his candidacy by standing up for this type of cause,” Tyson said.
The group has also criticized ministers and church groups who were protesting the depth of the federal investigation taking place. Johnson said ministers and religious leaders have complained that agents have been interrogating church members for information.
“So far, evidence does not suggest that the conspiracy theory, which is popular in certain religious circles, has much basis in fact,” Johnson said.
Tyson said although he could not give any details, insurance fraud is being investigated in a small number of the arson cases. He said before any political action is taken in defense of the churches, he would like investigators to present concrete facts regarding the fires.
Johnson added that investigators need to be able to do their jobs in these cases, wherever the evidence trail might lead.
American Atheists is a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair for the advancement of atheism, the defense of atheist civil rights and the separation of government and religion