Bakker, Swaggart among televangelists and religious organizations that received PPP loans

Bakker, Swaggart among televangelists and religious organizations that received PPP loans
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More than 10,000 religious organizations received financial aid through the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for a total of at least $3 billion, according to an analysis by The Guardian.

The recipients range from individual houses of worship to schools to ministries, including that of televangelist Jim Bakker, who was imprisoned in the 1990s after being convicted of mail and wire fraud.

Bakker, whose Missouri-based Morningside Church received between $350,000 and $1 million through the program, was sued by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) earlier this year for falsely claiming products sold through his ministry could cure the coronavirus.

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Meanwhile, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who was defrocked by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God after a sex scandal, received between $2 million and $5 million for his Family Worship Center in Louisiana.  

Thousands of other churches with no comparable history of scandal or allegations of misconduct also received funds, according to the newspaper. Pastor Bobby Gruenewald of Oklahoma-based Life.Church said the money would keep the church from having to lay off about 450 people.

“We’re grateful that nonprofits and churches were able to qualify for the PPP, because we believe that organizations like ours play an important role in serving communities during times of crisis,” he told the newspaper.

Rachel Laser, the chief executive of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, told the newspaper the awards had worrisome First Amendment implications.

“The American government at the federal level has never before subsidized houses of worship to pay for the salaries of their clergy,” Laser told The Guardian. “At Americans United we believe that the first amendment clearly forbids this. The Small Business Administration of the Trump administration may have allowed it, but the constitution forbids it.”

Michael McConnell, a constitutional law professor at Stanford University and former judge, defended the religious institutions, saying that the recipients needed an infusion of money to continue paying employees like many of the other recipients.

“The purpose of the program was to subsidize employers so that laid-off workers would not lose their jobs, and that purpose is as important when it comes to a church secretary as it is when it is a receptionist in an office,” McConnell told The Guardian.