This is how Christian zealotry gets sneaked into U.S. government under our noses.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) executed two grants for apparently political and religious reasons to “second tier” organizations over “highly recommended, established” groups in providing services to combat human trafficking, Newsweek reported.
Questions had been raised in a whistleblower complaint to the DOJ inspector general in December by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2830. The complaint “asked the watchdog to investigate whether politics factored into the decision” to ignore staff recommendations, Reuters news agency reported, according to a February article in The Hill.
The three-year grants were awarded to Hookers for Jesus of Nevada ($530,190) and the Lincoln Tubman Foundation of South Carolina ($549,345), instead of the far more estimable and experienced Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Florida and Chicanos Por La Causa of Arizona.
In an exclusive report Reuters news agency revealed that an internal DOJ memo dated September 12, 2019, recommended that the grant money go to Catholic Charities and Chicanos Por La Causa. In the end, however, the funding inexplicably went to Hookers for Jesus and the Tubman Foundation.
The question is why?
Katherine Sullivan, the head of the DOJ department that administers anti-trafficking grants, defended her group’s funding decisions, explaining that they “are based on a merit-based review system,” and that none of the “top-tier” potential grantees had applied for funding in Nevada or South Carolina. She added that allegations were “inappropriate” that the two winning grantees were forcing religion on their vulnerable clients.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association (AHA), is skeptical of that rationale. In an editorial message in AHA’s Free Mind newsletter, Speckhardt asserts that it is evident the DOJ grants were targeted to “groups that promote Christianity.”
“It’s clear that the [DOJ’s] merit-based review was overlooked to favor those aligned with the [Trump] administration’s religious viewpoints — a de facto government endorsement of Christianity,” Speckhardt wrote. “… [the religious grantees] are colluding with government to take taxpayer funds while retaining their exclusionary religious practices.”
The apparent political component of the questionable grants is that both successful grantees have ties to political causes viewed as opposed to the Trump administration: Chicanos Por La Causa has vocally attacked the administration’s immigration policies, and an official with Catholic Charities was previously a Democratic convention delegate, The Hill reported.
Reuters reported that the Foundation was founded “by a daughter of a prominent local [South Carolina] Republican who supported President Donald Trump as a delegate at the 2016 convention.”
The faith component is that Hookers for Jesus is a Christian organization. It’s founder, Annie Lobert, is a former sex worker and sex-trafficking victim whose outreach goal is to help other victims who want to leave sex work.
Lobert’s organization is controversial, Newsweek reported, because of strict faith-based rules in its safehouse, including banning “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc., that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips,” and mandatory attendance of the organization’s religious services. Lobert denies that clients are forced to attend services.
In his editorial, Speckhardt stressed the danger to the republic of “blatant religion preference” in awarding federal grants, with the government “providing awards and support to entities that reflect their Far-Right brand of Christianity, while seeking to control and demonize everyone else.”
“We’re gradually being conditioned to this kind of acquiescence,” he wrote, likening it to novelist Margaret Atwood’s warning in The Handmaid’s Tale that “nothing changes instantaneously” for someone in kettle water very slowly being heated to boiling.
Atwood added: “you’d be boiled before your knew it.”
“Over the last four years, the Trump administration tried to desensitize us to its favoritism toward religion,” Speckhardt reminds us, “so we must be ever more vigilant in identifying and raising awareness about the consistent and perilous direction in which they are marching this country.”
Feel the burn?
Please sign up (top right) to receive new Godzooks posts via email, Facebook or Twitter
“Erudite yet readable … very illuminating”
— Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” in praise of “Holy Smoke”
Buy either book on Amazon, here (paperback or ebook editions)