This vote was on an amendment by Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that would delete a provision in the economic stimulus bill that prohibits any of the funds from being used for renovating buildings at higher education facilities that are used for "sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity." His amendment was offered to a bill that is intended to help stimulate the flagging U.S. economy with a $900 billion cash infusion.
DeMint said that the language in the bill could be read very broadly as discouraging any religious worship at colleges that accepted stimulus funding. He said the courts have found that prayers are a form of religious worship, and that means "students cannot meet together in their dorms, if that dorm has been repaired with this Federal money, and have a prayer group or a Bible study. They cannot get together in their student centers. They cannot have a commencement service where a speaker talks about their personal faith."
"The people who wrote this bill want to create risk and liability and put a chilling effect on religious freedom in our country. The most important thing for us to consider is what is this nonsense doing in this bill in the first place? This has nothing to do with the economy and even less to do with stimulus," DeMint said.
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the provision in question states that stimulus funds can't be used to support facilities "in which a substantial portion of the functions of the building are involved in a religious mission."
"This language has been in the law for 40 years. It is the result of three Supreme Court decisions. The DeMint amendment is opposed by the Jesuit universities. We have struck a balance here helping religious schools on buildings that are not primarily for religious functions. We will continue doing that and continue honoring our Constitution’s establishment clause," Durbin said.
By a vote of 43-54, the amendment was rejected. All but two Republicans present voted for the amendment (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine). All but four Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the measure went forward with a provision intact that would prohibit stimulus funding from being used to repair buildings on college campuses that are substantially used for religious worship.