Agudath Israel of America has expressed strong support for a U.S Small Business Administration (SBA) proposal on “Ensuring Equal Treatment for Faith-Based Organizations in SBA’s Loan and Disaster Assistance Programs.” The rule would eliminate provisions that make certain faith-based organizations ineligible to participate in several SBA business loan and disaster programs simply because they are religious.
In comments submitted in response to the SBA’s proposed rule, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, laid out the organization’s reasons for supporting the agency’s action.
Rabbi Cohen explained that the SBA’s analysis is legally compelling and the agency has a duty to implement the proposed changes, as excluding an organization from a federal relief program, based solely on the organizations religious status, would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. He argued that recent U.S. Supreme Court cases clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that the Constitution requires “equal treatment” of religious entities who seek to participate in such federal programs.
Moreover, Rabbi Cohen averred, the proposed rule’s leveling of the playing field for religious entities represents sound public policy. Being that faith-based organizations provide vital services to meet the most pressing needs of their communities, especially during disasters and times of crises, the government should support both their eligibility and their efforts. In fact, it is often the government itself that reaches out to such organizations, many of which are having their own disaster-related financial difficulties, to help serve their communities during time of distress.
“It is incumbent upon our government to do whatever it can to help religious groups do their vital work and to remove any unnecessary or illegal restriction that bars the assistance they, and we in our nation, desperately need,” Rabbi Cohen observes.