Virginia Bill Would OK Funding For Faith-Based NPOs
Virginia Bill Would OK Funding For Faith-Based NPOs

A bill introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates clarifies state and local government funders’ ability to make grants to faith-based nonprofits. Specifically, the bill would give state and local governments the authority to provide funds for faith-based nonprofits that provide nonreligious community services. The services would have to be provided regardless of the recipient’s faith.

The bill, H.B. 377, was introduced by Delegate Suhas Subramanyam (D) of Loudon and Prince William counties. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns recommended the bill be brought to the House floor for a vote.

The bill would clarify various localities’ right to make such grants, Subramanyam told The NonProfit Times. Under the current Virginia Code, officials from state and local entities can only authorize such grants if “such institution or association shall not be controlled in whole or in part by any church or sectarian society.”

Problems arose when grantors were asked to determine whether a potential recipient was controlled by, or in part by, a religious organization. According to Subramanyam, the Virginia law required grantors to examine boards and governing documents and make judgment calls. But a recent Supreme Court of the United States decision seemed to override the Virginia law, and the language in H.B. 377 lifts the burden of determining whether an organization qualifies, thereby no longer requiring grantors to expend administrative resources in making such determinations.

 “The U.S. Supreme Court was clear recently about discriminating against an organization on the basis on religious affiliation,” Subramanyam said.

Subramanyam was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2017’s Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. The case weighed whether the Missouri Department of Natural Resources could deny funding to Trinity Lutheran Church for playground resurfacing. While the Missouri constitution prohibits tax dollars from funding church construction or minister salaries, the playground is part of a preschool and daycare facility with an open admissions policy.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decision and affirmation from lower courts prohibiting the funding by a 7-2 margin. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented on separation of church and state grounds.

“All we are doing is making it clear to localities what the law and Constitution say,” Subramanyam explained. “The policy behind it is good because a lot of religious-affiliated nonprofits do great work in the community. Often they are the only nonprofit able to do a good job when it comes to what a grant is supposed to address.”

If the bill becomes law, organizations such as the ADAMS Center Compassionate Healthcare Network, which gives free vaccines and hosts testing sites throughout northern Virginia, would be eligible for funds despite being affiliated with the ADAMS Center Mosque in northern Virginia, Subramanyam said.