RPT-UPDATE 1-Televangelists, Trump-Linked Mega-Churches Approved for Millions of Pandemic Aid
(Repetition of story first published July 7 without text change)
WASHINGTON, July 7 (Reuters) – Mega-churches and other religious organizations with ties to vocal supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump have been approved for millions of dollars in forgivable loans as part of a Taxpayer-funded pandemic aid rescue, according to long-awaited government data released this week.
Among those approved for loans under the government’s massive relief program was a Dallas mega-church whose pastor has been an outspoken ally of the president; a Florida church linked to Paula White, Trump’s spiritual advisor and “prosperity gospel” leader; and a nonprofit with a Christian vocation where Jay Sekulow, the lawyer who defended the president when he was impeached, is the lead lawyer.
Evangelical Christians played a key role in Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election and remained a largely steadfast contingent of his grassroots.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a rally last month at First Baptist Church in Dallas, whose pastor, Robert Jeffress, served on Trump’s evangelical advisory board. The church has been approved for a loan of $ 2-5 million, according to the data.
Launched on April 3, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) allows small businesses, nonprofits and individuals affected by the pandemic to apply for repayable government guaranteed loans. Some say that allowing religious institutions to receive loan forgiveness highlights a break in the American tradition of strict separation of church and state.
“The notion of separation of church and state is dead, and the PPP loan program is proof of that,” said Micah Schwartzman, professor at the University of Virginia Law School. “The money will fund the basic activities of many organizations, including religious organizations. It’s something we’ve never seen before.
The list of religious organizations approved for approximately 88,400 small business loans also included Faith and Freedom Coalition Inc. in Georgia, which qualified for a loan of $ 150,000 to $ 350,000. Evangelical group founder and chairman Ralph Reed praised Trump for his photoshoot at a church near the White House after authorities fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.
Cross Church of Arkansas, whose pastor emeritus was a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, has received a loan of $ 1.8 million and will seek loan forgiveness if conditions are met, a spokesperson told Reuters .
The American Center for Law and Justice Inc, a nonprofit organization founded by televangelist Pat Robertson and also known as Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism Inc., has received approval for a loan of $ 1 million to $ 2 million. of dollars. Sekulow is listed as Chief Lawyer on the organization’s website.
City of Destiny Inc. of Florida, where White, Trump’s spiritual advisor, is listed as an oversight pastor, has been approved for a loan of $ 150,000 to $ 350,000, the data shows.
Other than Cross Church of Arkansas, other churches and organizations did not respond to requests for comment.
Data released this week by the US Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration named borrowers who have been approved for loans of $ 150,000 or more under the $ 660 billion paycheck protection program.
Data showed that religious organizations accounted for more than one million of the 51.1 million jobs protected by the high-profile program. The list of named religious organizations was heavily biased in favor of Christian denominations, according to a Reuters analysis.
A White House official said: “This program was aimed at supporting jobs from all political backgrounds and affiliations. We did not discriminate based on one ideology or another. (Reporting by Chris Prentice; Additional reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Brad Heath; Editing by Michelle Price, Tom Lasseter, Gerry Doyle and Aurora Ellis)