By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
COLORADO, USA (Worthy News)-- Devoted Christian students across the United States faced uncertainty Tuesday, February 17, as President Barack Obama signed into law the nation's biggest ever economic stimulus plan which bans religious worship or instruction in university and college facilities that receive state funds for renovations.
"No funds awarded under this section may be used for – (3) modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities – (A) used for sectarian instruction or religious worship; or (B) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission," a part of the plan says.
One of the effects will be to bar Bible studies and worship meetings by Christian and other religious student groups in facilities that have undergone repairs or modernization work underwritten by stimulus funds, according to religious liberty advocates.
The measure is part of the almost $800 billion in government spending and tax cuts that Obama says are designed to get America's economy back on track. However critics describe the plan as anti-religious. “The dust is settling on the “bipartisan” stimulus bill and one thing is clear: it is anti-religious,” said former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who is also an ordained Baptist pastor.
"During debate, Senator Jim DeMint offered an amendment to strike the provision from the bill but it failed 43-54, with Democrats voting overwhelmingly for this blatantly anti-religious provision," Huckabee wrote on his Website and in an e-mail to supporters, monitored by Worthy News.
"Why would Democrats add this provision into a spending bill that they say is "urgently needed" to help our economy?" he added. Supporters of the provision say it guarantees the separation of church and state and ensures that tax payers dollars are not used for religion.
However the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said in published remarks that it would challenge the provision in federal court as it allegedly encourages discrimination.
"This is an unacceptable provision that clearly discriminates against religious organizations that have a legal right to use those facilities," ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said in a written statement. "This is not what 'economic stimulus' is about. We know that the American people don't want their tax dollars used for discriminatory measures."
It came shortly after Obama already signed an executive "reorganizing" the White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to be used only for "secular purposes", not evangelism. Yet despite controversies, Obama seemed pleased when signing the stimulus plan outside of Washington, in the Western city of Denver, Colorado on Tuesday, February 17.
Denver hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention, at which Obama received his party's presidential nomination. The majority of Colorado voters supported Obama in the November election, after several elections in which Republicans won the state.
"I do not want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems nor does it constitute all of what we are going to have to do to turn our economy around," he said at the signing ceremony. "But today does mark the beginning of the end."
Colorado also has a reputation for supporting businesses that produce and support so-called "clean energy".
Before President Obama signed the legislation, Blake Jones, the president of the Colorado-based Namaste Solar company, which makes solar energy equipment, said the stimulus plan will help his company and many others.
"Our trade association - the Solar Energy Industries Association - estimates that as a direct result of this stimulus bill, U.S. solar companies will create 69,000 good-paying jobs this year, and almost double that number over the next two years," he added.
Overall, the Obama administration claims the plan will create or save millions of jobs, cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans and inject new money into efforts to reform education, health care, and rebuild infrastructure.
Others aren't so sure. They include United States Representative Tom Price (R-Roswell) who became somewhat of a television celebrity last week when smashing the 1,000 plus pages of the bill and waving what looked to be a small, dead ball of fur on the floor of the U.S. House. The prop was reportedly from a pet store.
“What’s in it? Have you read it?” he said of the $787 million stimulus bill. “We found 30 million for mice. Got 30 million for mice. You can’t be serious. What a joke. $30 million for mice. Does that create jobs?”
The economic stimulus plan passed both houses of Congress, with all majority Democrats supporting the measure and nearly all Republicans voting against it. Minority-party lawmakers have warned the plan is too costly and wasteful, and will not work.
On Wednesday, February 18, Obama was to visit the Southwestern state of Arizona to introduce a program he said would help millions of homeowners avoid mortgage foreclosures. Several economists and politicians agree that the U.S. financial crisis began with bad loans in the home mortgage industry.