Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen plans to repay the millions in PPP loans his church in Lakewood, Texas, received last year, the Houston Chronicle reports.
After receiving $4.4 million from CARES Act funds in December, Osteen and church were the target of a huge wave of backlash online. Now, 10 months later, the church is giving back the funds.
“Like many organizations temporarily shuttered by the pandemic, this loan provided Lakewood Church short-term financial assistance in 2020 ensuring that its approximately 350 employees and their families would continue to receive a paycheck and full health care benefits,” the church said through a spokesperson.
As the Houston Chronivle points out, at least 60 other religious institutions in Texas were approved for more than $1 million in PPP loans.
Church-state separation advocates slammed religious organizations who received the forgivable loans, saying they essentially amounted to grants from the government going to religious institutions — a violation of the Constitution.
“Religious freedom is a core promise of our Constitution, and that means that no one should be forced to pay for someone else’s religious beliefs or practices,” Rob Boston, senior adviser for the Washington, based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
In December of last year, Boston called the loans a “direct government funding of religion.”
“And once government funding enters the equation, all bets are off,” he said. “It then becomes a matter of public interest to determine if taxpayer money was spent in accordance with whatever law we’re talking about.”
Osteen comes under fire from secular and religious people alike. Many Christians see Osteen as a proponent of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” which they say goes against the teachings of Christ.