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$27 million awarded to area religious institutions via federal Paycheck Protection Program

Job saver or blurring line separating church and state?
Posted at 11:35 AM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-10 17:30:29-04

BOCA RATON, Fla. — St. Paul Lutheran Church in Boca Raton received $593,000 from the U.S. government's Paycheck Protection Program.

"It just would have been a difficult time for us if we hadn't gotten those loans," Marybeth Keenan, the church's director of administration, said.

The church's PPP money arrived in April, just after St. Paul saw a drop in donations and its affiliated school had many parents unable to pay monthly tuition.

St. Paul Lutheran Church & School sign
St. Paul Lutheran Church & School in Boca Raton received $593,000 from the U.S. government's Payroll Protection Program.

"Some (parents) took pay cuts," Keenan said. "Some lost their jobs completely, depending on the nature of their business."

Contact 5 found more than 100, churches, synagogues and religious-affiliated schools and organizations in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast receiving about $27 million in PPP funds.


76 Received $150,000 - $350,000

36 Received $350,000 - $1 million

9 Received $1 million - $2 million

-- source: Internal Revenue Service

"These government loans actually are forgiven and they become government grants to pay clergy salaries," Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said. "Ultimately, it's a dangerous bargain to take government money."

She told Contact 5 that funding religious institutions violates the spirit of a constitutional ban on state-sponsored religion.

"Ultimately, what keeps religion alive is relying on its own members for funding and not relying on the government," Laser said.

Marybeth Keenan at St. Paul Lutheran Church defends receiving PPP funds
"Look at the people who are working here," Marybeth Keenan, director of administration at St. Paul Lutheran Church, told Contact 5. "Why don't they deserve to get help?"

"Look at the people who are working here," Keenan countered. "Why don't they deserve to get help?"

Keenan said staffers at her church have bills and taxes to pay, just like workers at stores and restaurants assisted by the PPP.

"It was a blessing to be able to apply for that and receive those funds," she added.

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