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Calif. missions bill passed by the Senate.

Legislation that would allocate $10 million in federal funds to repair and maintain mission churches in California passed the Senate Oct. 10.

Meeting late on a Sunday night, the Senate approved the measure on a voice vote. If the House of Representatives signs off on the Senate version of the measure, the California Missions Preservation Act (H.R. 1446) will go to President George W. Bush for final approval.

The bill provides tax aid for the repair and upkeep of 21 Roman Catholic missions and their artworks and artifacts. Americans United asserts that the measure is unconstitutional. Nineteen of the 21 missions are still owned by the Catholic Church and regularly hold worship services.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, who submitted testimony against the measure in March, decried the Senate action.

"The First Amendment requires a separation between government and religion," said Lynn. "Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for repairing and restoring churches."

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) aggressively pushed the bill. Boxer says the mission grants will be reviewed by the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to ensure they do not promote religion.

Lynn noted that Ashcroft, a favorite of the Religious Right, is a vociferous opponent of church-state separation who is unlikely to block any grants on the grounds that they might violate the First Amendment.

"I am disappointed that Sen. Boxer would support this bill that so clearly undercuts separation of church and state," said Lynn. "I don't think Sen. Boxer really believes that Attorney General John Ashcroft is the right person to make important decisions about our constitutional rights. Would she let Ashcroft make decisions about reproductive rights or free speech?"

Americans United's Legal Department will review the legislation if it becomes law and explore the possibility of filing a lawsuit.
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Title Annotation:People & Events
Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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