Hi everyone, this is Laura Robertson, White House Producer for CBN News. David's working on the faith-based story, but we didn't want you all to miss this important Senate vote this afternoon:
On the same day that the president has announced his commitment to work with members from all faith-based communities, the Senate will vote on amending a provision in the current stimulus package that would discriminate against building funding for "sectarian purposes."
Currently, Section 803 of the bill would create a multi-billion dollar grant program to renovate and repair colleges and universities, but there's one exception to this provision. The funds cannot be used for facilities used for "sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission."
Basically, this broad language could mean that any school or university building that might host an occasional prayer breakfast or religious student association would not be able to receive this federal aid, even if the primary purpose of the meeting room is a classroom or gym. Since the Supreme Court has previously ruled in 2001 that it's unconstitutional to restrict religious speech and expression in public facilities like schools.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has proposed a new provision that would remove these stipulations from the bill, in order "to allow the free exercise of religion at institutions of higher education that receive funding under section 803."
DeMint's provision has the staunchly support of many religious groups who consider the current form of the bill to be discrimination against religious groups. The Traditional Values Coalition says the impact of section 803 is "to discriminate and marginalize religious practice in secular institutions," and that its ultimate impact "will be to drive religious activities out of public education altogether."
The amendment is expected to pass when voted on today, but we'll see. If DeMint's amendment is not added to the current stimulus package, the division caused by section 803 could cause a huge headache for the Obama Administration.