Governor Bobby Jindal Wants Religion-Based Program to Receive $15,000 in Federal Money

A few months ago, the Bossier Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana lost $15,000 in federal funding because of the nature of its Young Marine Program. The program actually sounds decent, promoting the “mental, moral and physical development of its young recruits.”

The problem lies in the more detailed description:

Bossier Sheriff’s Office

Upon joining the Young Marines, each recruit will undergo basic recruit training for a minimum of 26 hours. During this time, the youth will have the opportunity to learn military history, customs and courtesies, close order drill,, physical fitness, rank structure and other subjects pertaining to life skills. Most importantly, the youth will learn to bond and relate with other young recruits and the opportunity to interact with caring adult mentors that are committed to providing them with a safe place to develop and grow with special emphasis on the love of God and fidelity to our country.

Why is the Sheriff’s Department teaching kids about the “love of God”?

That’s not the only issue. There’s also the Young Marine Obligation:

From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. Semper Fidelis.

There’s also one of the five parts of the Young Marine Creed:

(#3) Keep myself clean in mind by attending the church of my faith.

Can we admit this is a religious program?

That’s why the federal funding was revoked. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice told Sheriff Julian Whittington that if he took the mentions of God out of the program, federal funding would be returned. Whittington refused to do that.

Normally, the story would end there. (At least until someone sues the Sheriff’s Department for running a pro-religion program in the first place.)

Whittington wasn’t satisfied with the Department of Justice’s ultimatum, though, so he wrote a letter (PDF) to Governor Bobby Jindal whining about how his rights were somehow being violated:

This is an appalling situation where someone at the Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, in Washington, D.C. could, would and did go to great lengths to prevent even the mere mention of God in any way to the youth in these programs.

As Sheriff of Bossier Parish, I will never sign the requested letter preventing these “inherently religious activities” from being a part of our programs.

I think this is an area where compromise is not an option and request it be given your prompt attention.

A smart governor would’ve thrown that letter away.

Bobby Jindal is not a smart governor.

That’s why he joined Whittington at an “In God We Trust Rally” on July 4th:

Sheriff Julian Whittington (left), Governor Bobby Jindal (center), and information officer Lt. Bill Davis (right) at the ‘In God We Trust Rally’ (Henrietta Wildsmith – The Shreveport Times)

Joined by hundreds of area residents pledging support and donations, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he stands behind Whittington and called for the Department of Justice to restore all funds to the program.

“The federal government is treating prayer as if it is something you can catch, as if it’s contagious,” Jindal said. “There are many things I worry about when it comes to my three children, but never have I worried they were getting too much prayer.”

Jindal said it was time to take a stand against an apparent breach of constitutional rights.

Remember when Jindal said that the GOP needed to “stop being the stupid party“? He should take his own advice. Misinterpreting the Constitution and encouraging people to take a stand against our country’s own laws are not the hallmarks of an intelligent, winning political party.

Randall T. Hayes, who has an excellent writeup about this whole story, points out the problem with this line of thought:

I have to wonder whether Jindal might worry about how much prayer his three children were getting if they were praying to a deity that the Jindals don’t believe in. In any case, I don’t worry about how much prayer Bobby Jindal’s children get, either. That’s none of my business. That’s a matter that should be left to the Jindal family. However, when Jindal or Whittington or any other government official decides that it’s okay for them to use their government jobs to push their religion on other people’s children, then I start worrying.

If this program promoted atheism instead of religion, Jindal wouldn’t give a damn about it. But because it’s promoting faith, he see no problem with federal money going to it.

Whittington wasn’t doing himself any favors at the rally by linking patriotism with God in the press release:

“We are holding the 4th of July “In God We Trust” rally because this issue is about as close to home as it gets,” said Sheriff Whittington. “It’s a direct attempt to try to influence what we do right here at home, and we want to send a message to Washington, D.C… this is a wake-up call, and it’s our time to stand and say, ‘In God We Trust’.”

He silently added: Screw you, atheists.

He also lied about what the issue at hand was:

“We are a Christian nation based on Christian ideals and the very idea of the mention of God or voluntary prayer is somehow prohibited and offensive is just as upsetting to them as it is to me” says Sheriff Whittington.

But no one’s against him mentioning God in his private life and no one’s stopping him from praying on his own. It’s the fact that he’s running a program that promotes faith — through his government office — that’s the problem.

We’re not a Christian nation. We never were a Christian nation. We’re only a nation with a majority Christian population and we have laws designed to keep them from using the government to advance their religion.

The Department of Justice made the right decision in not sponsoring this program. If Whittington wants it to continue, he should let a church group handle it. He’s already putting the taxpayers in Bossier Parish in jeopardy (hello, FFRF). You have to wonder why this guy is a Sheriff instead of a pastor — it’s clear he’s getting the two roles confused.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.