We recently reported  that the Trump administration is refusing  to reveal the names of more than 4.5 million businesses that have received a whopping $500 billion in corporate bailout money, but apparently the situation is even worse than we thought.
When the U.S. government passed the Payment Protection Program (PPP) in April, it was revealed large businesses (like restaurant chains, for instance), were receiving millions of dollars while small businesses received no funding at all, Friendly Atheist  notes.
Non-profits were also eligible for this largesse, and that means many religious institutions stepped up to apply for funds. In other words, thousands  of churches literally snapped up millions and millions of dollars to fatten their coffers.
And the Trump administration and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says no you’re not going to find out which churches benefited from this. He has no plans to publicize which groups got how much money. It’s all very hush-hush, and as Friendly Atheist’s Hemant Mehta  notes:
“For all we know, companies owned by Republican donors are receiving an outsized portion of the funding.”
One Democratic committee spokesperson told CNN:
“The Trump administration has provided no reason why PPP should be less transparent than 7(a) loans, and Ranking Member [Sen. Ben] Cardin expects SBA to follow precedent on making PPP loan information publicly available.”
The government’s top financial watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it also hasn’t received details on the funds given out. Mnuchin has said the administration is working to provide the agency with the details.
So we really don’t know which churches are receiving taxpayer dollars — or exactly how much they are receiving. And atheist organizations are speaking out on this because the GOP’s responsible for this, and it’s likely illegal.
American Atheists is leading the way, having filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Small Business Administration (SBA) demanding  to know which non-profits have received  these funds.
“The Trump administration should never have funneled taxpayer dollars toward religious worship,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists. “Now that it has happened, we demand complete transparency to determine the scope of this unconstitutional activity and the extent of any favoritism.”
In addition, she said American Atheists wants to know if some of Trump’s wealthier evangelicals benefitted from this.
“Has the Trump administration shown pro-Trump preachers and religious denominations favoritism? Did Donald Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White and his constant evangelical backer Robert Jeffress, receive an outsized guaranteed loan — essentially a huge amount of free money?”
“We simply don’t know,” she added. “And that’s the problem. Where public funds go, public accountability must follow.”
What this amounts to, in essence, is that for the first time in U.S. history, “we’re giving the government the power to directly fund religion” notes constitutional attorney Andrew Seidel, who’s also the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s strategic response director.
“That has never happened before,” he told The Humanist, “and we are giving that power to Donald Trump, who was carried into office on a wave of Christian nationalism and evangelical support, and a man whose penchant for grift and corruption and self-dealing is unbounded.”
Indeed, the Trump administration is notably  corrupt but the GOP isn’t any better by trying to sweep all of this under the rug. While I’m no expert, this seems like a clear violation of the First Amendment,  which guarantees the separation of church and state. This amendment also covers press freedoms, something that’s been under constant assault during Trump’s presidency. Is he just intent on shredding the constitution?