NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Whether it’s Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish or another religious-based nonprofit, your tax dollars could potentially be headed there.
“We don’t specify what religious group,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) said. “Again, the office of faith-based initiatives works with all religious organizations out there to do what the Chairman and the Speaker have said.”
Currently, for the governor’s non-profit partners, “costs to underwrite the nonprofit partner’s activities related to the office must be borne from revenues of the nonprofit partner.”
But a new bill in the legislature that passed the House State Government Committee Wednesday would completely remove that clause.
“I’m not saying that there are not programs out there that are faith-based that are successful,” Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-Nashville) said. “You can go to 12-step programs for Alcoholics Anonymous. But they’re not paid for by taxpayers’ dollars.”
Democrats pushed back on the bill saying it fails the Lemon Test, which comes from a 1971 Supreme Court case and helps smaller courts decide cases in a three-pronged way.
It gets a little more in the weeds, but more or less, the first prong states that religious entities have to have a “clear, secular purpose” to receive funding.
“The governor’s office on faith-based and community initiatives clearly is not solely secular in nature,” Jernigan said.
Furthermore, Democrats say it muddies the divide of church and state.
But Republicans argued there’s nothing in the Constitution separating church and state.
“It was never our Founders’ intent to have a separation of church and state, which does not exist in the Constitution,” Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) said. “There seems to be this notion that the two have to be separate when our founders made clear the two are completely intertwined.”
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) argued the same and pointed to the history of religion in the country.
“Money that we use in America,” he said, “does it not say, ‘In God We Trust?’”