On its website and on Your World, Fox News has promoted the misrepresentation of a provision in the economic recovery bill to make false claims about restrictions on spending in the bill for religious activities in schools. In fact, the provision is nearly identical to provisions included in numerous other federal bills.
In articles on its website and on the February 5 broadcast of Your World, Fox News has promoted the misrepresentation of a provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to make false claims about restrictions on spending in the bill for religious activities in schools. In fact, the provision is nearly identical to provisions included in numerous other bills passed by Congress, including those passed when the Republicans were in the majority.
A February 5 FoxNews.com article by reporter Cristina Corbin claimed the bill would "prohibit renovation money for schools that allow religious groups to meet on campus." In fact, the section in question, Section 9302, provides funding to "higher education facilities that are primarily used for instruction, research, or student housing." Neither that section nor the bill as a whole contains a provision that would ban money from going to "schools that allow religious groups to meet on campus" -- a prohibition that, if it were actually part of the bill -- would essentially bar all U.S. schools from receiving renovation money.
In a separate February 4 article headlined, "Conservative Groups Declare Obama's Stimulus Bill a War on Prayer," Corbin claimed that "[t]he provision bans money designated for school renovation from being spent on facilities that allow 'religious worship.' " Further, on the February 5 edition of Your World, host Neil Cavuto allowed Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) to falsely claim that the bill "would prohibit any religious activity in any college or university facility that uses any of these funds for modernization or renovation." Cavuto also allowed DeMint to falsely claim that "if they [colleges or universities] use these funds to be modernized or renovated, then there can be no prayers, religious activities, no teaching of religious history. So, it discriminates against anyone of faith and would affect the things that are going on now. Just normal meetings by religious groups can no longer be held in a student center, which the Supreme Court has given them that right. But if these funds are used on that student center for renovation, it can't be used." Cavuto subsequently commented: "That doesn't even sound legal."
In fact, Section 9302 prohibits the use of funds for "modernization, renovation, or repair of 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. [emphasis added]." Thus, it does not prohibit money being spent on facilities that "allow 'religious worship' " in Corbin's words.
Moreover, the inclusion of such language in bills is not new or controversial as Salon.com's Alex Koppelman reported. For instance, a section of the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2006 -- enacted while George W. Bush was president, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and sponsored by Republican Rep. Patrick Tiberi (OH) -- authorized a grant for "an older American community service employment program," but excluded "projects involving the construction, operation, or maintenance of any facility used or to be used as a place for sectarian religious instruction or worship."
From the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1, as passed by the House):
SEC. 9302. HIGHER EDUCATION MODERNIZATION, RENOVATION, AND REPAIR.
(a) Purpose- Grants awarded under this section shall be for the purpose of modernizing, renovating, and repairing institution of higher education facilities that are primarily used for instruction, research, or student housing.
(d) Use of Subgrants by Institutions of Higher Education-
(1) PERMISSIBLE USES OF FUNDS- An institution of higher education receiving a subgrant under this section shall use such subgrant to modernize, renovate, or repair facilities of the institution that are primarily used for instruction, research, or student housing, which may include any of the following:
(A) Repair, replacement, or installation of roofs, electrical wiring, plumbing systems, sewage systems, or lighting systems.
(B) Repair, replacement, or installation of heating, ventilation, or air conditioning systems (including insulation).
(C) Compliance with fire and safety codes, including --
(i) professional installation of fire or life safety alarms; and
(ii) modernizations, renovations, and repairs that ensure that the institution's facilities are prepared for emergencies, such as improving building infrastructure to accommodate security measures.
(D) Retrofitting necessary to increase the energy efficiency of the institution's facilities.
(E) Renovations to the institution's facilities necessary to comply with accessibility requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794).
(F) Abatement or removal of asbestos from the institution's facilities.
(G) Modernization, renovation, and repair relating to improving science and engineering laboratories, libraries, and instructional facilities.
(H) Upgrading or installation of educational technology infrastructure.
(I) Installation or upgrading of renewable energy generation and heating systems, including solar, photovoltaic, wind, biomass (including wood pellet), or geothermal systems, or components of such systems.
(J) Other modernization, renovation, or repair projects that are primarily for instruction, research, or student housing.
(3) PROHIBITED USES OF FUNDS- No funds awarded under this section may be used for --
(A) the maintenance of systems, equipment, or facilities, including maintenance associated with any permissible uses of funds described in paragraph (1);
(B) modernization, renovation, or repair of stadiums or other facilities primarily used for athletic contests or exhibitions or other events for which admission is charged to the general public;
(C) modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities --
(i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or
(ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission; or
(D) construction of new facilities.
From the February 5 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: Well, a Senate vote on the stimulus bill could come down tonight; both sides fighting over the spending and the tax cuts. Now there seems to be a battle over something else: religion.
My next guest says that the bill is an attack on people of faith. He's trying to fix that. The man who has really become like a rock star in this whole process, Jim DeMint, Republican senator from South Carolina. Senator, good to see you.
DeMINT: Neil, I don't feel like a rock star. I feel like I have been hit by a rock.
CAVUTO: I bet, I bet. It goes back and forth here. But what's this religion thing about?
DeMINT: Well, this morning, I went to the National Prayer Breakfast. Barack Obama spoke about the importance of faith. Tony Blair spoke about the importance of faith. It was a great experience -- over 3,000 people from all over the world.
Then, I get back here, and we're working on this so-called stimulus bill that would prohibit any religious activity in any college or university facility that uses any of these funds for modernization or renovation.
It is just a phrase that I think the ACLU had stuck in this bill -- because they are the real proponents of keeping it in there -- that would really take advantage of religious freedom, Bible studies, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, whether it is on a student center, a dorm, an auditorium where prayers might be offered. The Supreme --
CAVUTO: So what does it stop? It doesn't allow these areas to be upgraded, renovated, expanded? Am I getting that right, or what?
DeMINT: No. If they are -- if they use these funds to be modernized or renovated, then there can be no prayers, religious activities, no teaching of religious history. So, it discriminates against anyone of faith and would affect the things that are going on now. Just normal meetings by religious groups can no longer be held in a student center, which the Supreme Court has given them that right.
But if these funds are used on that student center for renovation, it can't be used. I mean --
CAVUTO: That doesn't even sound legal.
DeMINT: -- this doesn't have any place in the stim --
CAVUTO: But -- but that doesn't even sound legal.
DeMINT: No, I don't think it is constitutional. It's not. I don't think it is constitutional. The -- the ACLU is arguing that it is, and they're encouraging all their Democrat friends to vote against my amendment.
But I have an amendment to strip it out. It has nothing to do with jobs; it has nothing to do with our economy. It is just an effort to slip one more thing in with a political agenda, and we are finding these things spread throughout this bill.
CAVUTO: All right, because this one has, like you say, nothing to with costs at all. It seems like a concerted effort to focus on religion.
So, obviously, it -- it was one of these sneaky things they're trying to add in there. What is the prospect of it being sneakily taken out of there, then?
DeMINT: Well, it won't be sneakily taken out, because I am going to have an amendment on the floor, and I'm going to force a vote, so people around the country can see who is really behind this.
The only opposition to my bill so far that I have seen is from -- from the ACLU. But this kind of thing would create an opening for so many lawsuits against colleges and universities, and that is the business that the ACLU is in.
CAVUTO: Senator, all right, crazy stuff. I know a lot of amendments are coming fast and furious. Good seeing you.
DeMINT: Well -- well, thank you for helping us keep this process honest.
CAVUTO: Man, oh, man. All right, thank you, sir.
From Corbin's February 4 FoxNews.com article, "Conservative Groups Declare Obama's Stimulus Bill a War on Prayer":
Democrats in Congress have declared war on prayer, say conservative groups who object to a provision in the stimulus bill that was passed by the House of Representatives last week.
The provision bans money designated for school renovation from being spent on facilities that allow "religious worship." It has ignited a fury among critics who say it violates the First Amendment and is an attempt to prevent religious practice in schools.
According to the bill, which the Democratic-controlled House passed despite unanimous Republican opposition, funds are prohibited from being used for the "modernization, renovation, or repair" of facilities that allow "sectarian instruction, religious worship or a school or department of divinity."
Critics say that could include public schools that permit religious groups to meet on campus. The House provided $20 billion for the infrastructure improvements, of which $6 billion would go to higher education facilities where the limitations would be applied.
Civil liberty groups like the Americans United for Separation of Church and State vehemently defend the stimulus bill's provision, arguing that it in no way violates the Constitution.
"This provision upholds constitutional standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court and in no way affects student groups that meet on public school campuses," said the Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The American Civil Liberties Union also defends the constitutionality of the restriction, which they say has been the law since 1972.
From Corbin's February 5 FoxNews.com article, headlined "Republican Senator Proposes Amendment to Overturn Ban on Cash for Schools Hosting Faith Forums":
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint proposed an amendment Thursday to kill a provision in the Senate stimulus bill that prohibits renovation money for schools that allow religious groups to meet on campus.
DeMint proposed the amendment after the provision was passed in the Democratic-controlled House despite unanimous Republican opposition. The amendment is expected to be voted on Thursday, an aide to the senator told FOXNews.com.
DeMint and others who object to the provision say Democrats in Congress have declared war against prayer in the stimulus bill, which currently prohibits funds from being used for the "modernization, renovation, or repair" of facilities that allow "sectarian instruction, religious worship or a school or department of divinity."
But civil liberty groups like the ACLU defend the stimulus bill's provision, arguing that it in no way violates the Constitution.
"It's almost a restatement of what the Constitution requires so there's nothing novel in what the House did in its restriction," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel to the ACLU. "For 37 years, the law of the land is that the government can't pay for buildings that are used for religious purposes."
And according to some constitutional law experts, any complaint filed against the provision will gain little ground in court.