Who turns down $54 million?

Written by William C. Duncan

May 29, 2020

Just a few days after it began, a small-business-loan program from the federal government’s response to COVID-19 ran entirely out of money. It turns out that the loans were going not just to troubled small businesses, but also to large companies with other sources of funds available who still kept the money.

This makes a recent local news story all the more surprising. In March, Utah County’s largest employer announced it would not accept federal assistance – assistance of more than $32 million that it had not applied for but that had been earmarked for it nonetheless.

That employer is Brigham Young University. In total, BYU and the other colleges in the Church Education System of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College (soon to be Ensign College) – will forgo over $54 million in funding. The schools informed the U.S. Department of Education of their decision “so the money can be used at schools in greater need of aid.” Private funds will now assist the students at these church schools.

This is only one example of countless instances of religious organizations and people of faith making special efforts to provide assistance, beyond what would be expected, to respond to the pandemic. Examples include:

  • Islamic Relief USA allocated $1.9 million to local mosques engaged in “food, hygiene and financial assistance.”
  • A Presbyterian congregation in Sacramento organized younger parishioners to deliver groceries to older members, help them get to doctor appointments, and make weekly calls to those who are lonely.
  • Muslim youth at the University of South Carolina organized to provide food for people in need in Greenville.
  • Catholic nuns in Myanmar have sewed masks for the poor and protective suits for health workers.
  • The Evangelical charity Samaritan’s Purse set up a field hospital in Central Park in New York City to help with the overflow of patients from a nearby hospital.

Those who do not share a particular faith often find it difficult to understand why believers believe as they do. People of faith believe they are accountable to God and to one another for what they do. That motivation may seem strange and incomprehensible to those who do not share the faith. They may even dislike what believers are motivated to do or to teach.

In these types of examples, however, we can begin to understand why the Framers of the Constitution singled out religious practice for protection. The deep motivations of religious faith are different from motivations of interest. When we protect religious liberty, we are protecting unique motivations and encouraging the religiously motivated sacrifices that many people in society – especially vulnerable populations – depend upon when times are difficult. Agree or disagree, it is good for all of us that many of our fellow citizens are motivated by a higher cause.

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