Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church will repay the $4.4 million it received last year in a PPP loan, the Houston Chronicle reported.
After receiving millions of dollars from the CARES Act funds in December, the Houston-based church faced major backlash online, specifically from church-state separation groups, according to the Houston Chronicle. At the time, owner Osteen’s name even trended on Twitter.
Ten months later, the church will repay the total amount of funds received.
Initially, the church defended the decision to apply for the loan, making the argument that none of the money was going to go to Osteen or his wife.
“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.
Lakewood was not alone in this case, as at least 60 Texas religious institutions were approved for more than $1 million in PPP loans, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Still, church-state separation groups criticized religious groups who received this government payout. They argued that since the loans were forgivable, they were essentially grants from the government, which was, by their measure, subsidizing religious practices. This goes against the Constitution, they said.
“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.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.