U.S. constitutional jurisprudence precludes the direct government funding of religious activity. At the same time, the jurisprudence surrounding the U.S. First Amendment Religion Clauses has evolved to support the general inclusion of religious entities in programs through which a government advances some overarching public interest, such as health care or social services, but does not involve the Government in advancing religion per se. Moreover, the most recent U.S. Supreme Court cases hold that it is a violation of the First Amendment to exclude a religious actor, solely because it is religious, from a general public program and funding on equal terms with secular actors. Pandemic relief from the federal government has been made available to houses of worship (churches, mosques, synagogues, etc.) to mitigate the economic impact of government lockdown orders and public health restrictions on assembly, by offsetting loss of revenue and avoiding the suspension or termination of employees. The extension of such relief sits precisely at the crossroads of debated legal questions about whether such assistance is aid to religion—prohibited—or neutral disaster relief on equal terms with other community-serving entities—permitted. This article concludes that the inclusion of houses of worship is constitutional, given the trend and direction of U.S. law, although the matter will continue to be debated as the effects of the pandemic recede.
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