People’s Church applied for and received a grant through the Payroll Protection Program. Before we applied for this grant, the Board had a thorough discussion about accepting a Federal grant and honoring our dedication to the principle of the separation of church and state. It was the unanimous consensus that it would be ethical for us to accept the grant.
The argument that makes sense to me is as follows: The PPP is meant to help employees of small businesses that were affected by the pandemic. If some employees were excluded because the small business they worked for happened to be a church, then the program would discriminate against religion and would not be neutral.
We did receive one letter and a few informal comments questioning our decision. (I’m surprised there were not more.) This writer pointed out that Thomas Jefferson argued that no government funds should be used to pay people who espouse or teach religion.
In our case, the Minister and Director of Religious Education are essential to the operation of the Church and there was never any discussion about laying either of them off. However, the pandemic crisis did result in a serious loss of income and it did reduce the need for some of our staff. We did not have to discuss laying off administrative, custodial or music staff because the PPP grant was awarded. Staff are not required to be members of the church. The terms of the grant allowed us to extend the payout over many weeks so that it could be used to pay salaries and expenses for administrative, custodial and music staff but not for the Minister or DRE.
The new Board discussed the PPP again at the July 14 meeting and, again, agreed that our participation was ethical.
People’s Church Board President