Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Just Got a Provision Passed That Will Use Taxpayer Money to Fund Religious Programs

Last year, the Bossier Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana lost $15,000 in federal funding for its Young Marine Program. On the surface, the program sounds great, promoting the “mental, moral and physical development of its young recruits.”

The problem was that it was a religious program, emphasizing “the love of God and fidelity to our country,” subjecting members to a Young Marine Obligation to not disgrace or dishonor God, and having students sign on to a Young Marine Creed that included: “Keep myself clean in mind by attending the church of my faith.”

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice made it very clear that the money would be returned to the Sheriff’s office once the God references were removed. That never happened. Sheriff Julian Whittington complained to Governor Bobby “we’ve got to stop being the stupid party” Jindal, prompting Jindal to join him at an “In God We Trust Rally” on July 4:

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)

That’s when Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) stepped in. She sponsored a bill that would “prohibit the revocation or withholding of Federal funds to programs whose participants carry out voluntary religious activities.”

Except these religious activities weren’t exactly voluntary. The references to God were built right into the program. You may have been able to get away with not saying them, but there’s no doubt this was religious proselytization at some level.

Landrieu’s bill stalled in committee, but she found a way to get it passed, anyway. She tacked it onto page 975 of the Omnibus Spending Bill recently passed by Congress:

No funds appropriated in this Act may be used to prevent the implementation of programs of voluntary prayer and meditation in the public schools.

Landrieu just gave religious groups a loophole with which they can push religion into public schools. All they have to do is insist that students aren’t required to say all the godly oaths and creeds in their programs and they can Jesu-fy up everything they do.

The spending bill passed in the House on a 359-67 vote earlier this week and passed in the Senate 72-26. President Obama said he’ll sign it once it reaches his desk, so there’s no stopping it now.

The senator is thrilled about her “freedom to pray” provision, of course:

Sen. Landrieu said, “Programs like the Young Marines in Bossier City will now have peace of mind knowing that they will not have their funding revoked because they offer voluntary prayer or other religious activities.”

Sen. Landrieu also said, “The Department of Justice’s overreach threatened not only the positive contributions of Young Marines to Bossier, but community enhancement programs like this across the country. I’m proud to have secured this provision that will help avoid the unnecessary conflict that the Young Marines experienced the last couple years with the Department of Justice.”

I said this before, but I’ll say it again: There was no overreach here. There was just reach. The Department of Justice was doing its job by not funding a blatantly religious program, voluntary or not.

There’s no reason a local church can’t sponsor the Young Marine Program, even with the Sheriff’s support (when he’s off-duty). There’s also no reason the references to God can’t be removed from the current version of the program.

But neither of those options are even being considered. Instead, religious groups — and you know they’ll virtually all be Christian ones — will now have the opportunity to spread their faith with taxpayer money.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.


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