Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Is Trying to Pass a Bill That Would Use Taxpayer Money to Fund Religious Programs

You may recall that the Bossier Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana recently lost $15,000 in federal funding because of the religious nature of its Young Marine Program.

Bossier Sheriff’s Office

The program description suggested that it would provide children “with a safe place to develop and grow with special emphasis on the love of God and fidelity to our country.”

The Young Marine Obligation (the “oath”) also referenced God.

So did the Young Marine Creed, which required participants to keep themselves clean “in mind by attending the church of my faith.”

The Department of Justice was very clear about how they would handle this: If the references to God were taken out of the program, Sheriff Julian Whittington would get the money for his program. After all, it’s not the government’s responsibility to pay for religious activities.

Whittington threw a shit fit. He wrote a letter (PDF) to Governor Bobby Jindal whining about how he wasn’t getting his way:

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.

Jindal, who cares more about appealing to his Christianist base than doing the right thing, 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)

“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.”

So it’s clear: This was and still is a religious program. No one’s denying that and everyone’s talking up just how godly it is. They’re upset because the government finally said no to sponsoring their proselytizing ways.

I thought the story would end there. Whittington — still illegally, I might add — shifted money around in his department to pay for the program despite the DoJ’s statement.

But it hasn’t ended.

In fact, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has sponsored a badly-titled bill called the “Freedom to Pray Act“… as if prayer isn’t a freedom everyone already has.

The bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, would “prohibit the revocation or withholding of Federal funds to programs whose participants carry out voluntary religious activities.”

In English, that means the government would be able to fund voluntary programs that involve religious proselytizing.

It shall be unlawful for the Federal Government to revoke or withhold Federal financial assistance that would otherwise be provided to any recipient of such assistance on the basis of religious activities that are conducted voluntarily and initiated by participants in a program or activity carried out by such recipient.

This is just awful precedent. Christians are the only people who want to indoctrinate others on the taxpayer dime — despite what evangelicals tell you about science class — and this bill would give them the loophole they need to do it.

Landrieu’s office completely evaded that issue in a statement they put out:

“I am deeply encouraged by Sen. Graham’s support of the Freedom to Pray Act,” Sen. Landrieu said. “I will continue to work to build support on both sides of the aisle to get this important legislation passed and put an end to the Department of Justice’s overreach. Programs like the Young Marines in Bossier City are making positive contributions to young individuals and their communities — they deserve our support.”

There’s no overreach here. There’s just reach. They DoJ is doing its job by not funding a blatantly religious program, voluntary or not. Why can’t a church sponsor this? The Sheriff is welcome to run a program like this through a church (in his spare time). He could also run the program through his office if he removes all the unnecessary parts involving God. Either option would be fine.

He won’t do that, though. He has this crazy idea that the government should sponsor his special Christian program. And U.S. senators are taking his side!

I have said all along that this is not a Democrat issue, it’s not a Republican issue, … it’s an American issue,” Whittington said. “It seems to me that if the federal government followed the U.S. Constitution and upheld our basic religious freedoms, we wouldn’t be dealing with this matter of overt overreach in the first place.”

Maybe if Whittington read the Constitution, he would understand that the DoJ is doing nothing to abridge his religious freedom.

If this program was geared toward Muslims instead of Christians, this wouldn’t even be an issue. The same senators would be making my argument. But Christian privilege runs deep and Whittington thinks it’s the government’s job to advance his faith.

The bill has a long way to go before becoming law. It still has to get out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, get approved by the House and Senate, and signed into law by President Obama. Somewhere along the way, I hope someone has the good sense to see this as a cheap ploy to win Christian votes and not a bill that “fixes” anything that was ever broken in the first place.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

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.