Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Dozens of religious groups got highest tier of funds

Vol. 37 No. 06 August 2020

Under the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, at least two dozen religious organizations received the highest tier of funds (between $5 million and $10 million), according to Religion News Service.

Of those dozens, two megachurches — Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago and Life.Church in Edmond, Okla. — were included.

“The notion of separation of church and state is dead, and the PPP loan program is the evidence of that,” Micah Schwartzman, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, told Reuters. “The money is going to fund core activities of many organizations, including religious organizations. That’s something we’ve not seen before.”

Religion News Service reported that several Protestant denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church, also received between $5 million and $10 million, as did a dozen Roman Catholic entities and at least two Jewish organizations — the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in New Jersey, which is named after President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner’s grandfather, got a loan in the range of $1 million to $2 million.

Reuters reported that the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., received between $5 million and $10 million, despite publicly acknowledging its role in decades of sexual abuse.

And Ken Ham’s infamous Ark Encounter in Kentucky, the $100 million boondoggle meant to prove that the bible is literally true, has taken in between $1 million and $2 million through the PPP.

Most of the churches (70 percent) listed in the data received between $150,000 and $300,000, according to Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University who examined the data.

But highly controversial figures have also received aid, including televangelists Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Peter Popoff.

Swaggart, who leads the Family Worship Center in Louisiana, was defrocked by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in the early 1990s after being implicated in sex scandals. His church got between $2 million and $5 million.

Bakker, of Morningside Church Productions in Missouri, was also defrocked by the Assemblies of God after a highly publicized sexual encounter with a church secretary and was imprisoned in the 1990s on dozens of fraud and conspiracy charges surrounding his church fundraising. Morningside received between $350,000 and $1 million.

Popoff, of People United for Christ in California, was exposed for using an earpiece to receive radio messages from his wife so he could pretend to know personal details about his audience members during religious services. His church received between $350,000 and $1 million.

Between 12,000 and 13,000 of the 17,000 Catholic churches in the United States also applied for PPP loans, CBS News reports. The larger the church, the more likely it was to have applied for federal aid. Half of the pastors at churches that average 200 or more attendees said their church applied for a loan, compared to only a third of churches that average fewer than 50 attendees.

Pete Evans, an investigator of religious fraud for the Trinity Foundation, said he had expected controversial churches would receive the aid.

“You’re getting free money, and that’s what these guys are good at,” Evans told The Guardian.

Note: As a qualifying secular 501(c)(3) nonprofit, FFRF was eligible for and received a forgivable loan under the PPP of less than half a million dollars. Unlike churches, FFRF discloses its finances to the government and the public.