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Earmarks are “congressional provisions directing approved funds to be spent on specific projects.” In other words, legislators can direct federal money to pet projects (usually in their cities or states).

The Secular Coalition for America reviewed 24 Congressional appropriations committee reports from the fiscal year 2008.

They found over 140 earmarks that are “constitutionally suspect.”

Those earmarks — set aside for religious activities — total nearly $30,000,000.

Among the projects financed by your money? Training programs for evangelical ministers, homeless shelters that try to convert clients to Christianity, and colleges whose students must believe in Biblical inerrancy.

Here are some of the SCA’s findings:

  • Both parties support religious earmarks
  • Our study found that political party was a poor indicator in determining whether a member of Congress would provide an earmark to a religious organization; 52 percent were sponsored by Republicans and 42 percent were Democrat sponsored. Six percent of the earmarks were bipartisan…

  • Sens. Arlen Specter, Kit Bond lead in religious earmarks
  • … Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) provided 8 earmarks to religiously motivated and operated abstinence-only programs with funding totaling $365,000. Senator Specter produced an additional 12 earmarks, mostly to religious colleges, for about $1,300,000.

    In fact, Senator Specter requested the greatest number of religious earmarks, by far, of any member of Congress. In sheer dollars, Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) was the leader with a total of $2,250,000 in religious earmark requests.

  • Some ministries granted multiple earmarks
  • Several organizations received multiple earmarks from different Congressional sponsors; for example, World Impact Ministries, a Christian group that “ministers cross-culturally to people unreached by the gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelism, follow-up, discipleship and indigenous church-planting,” received five earmarks for a total amount of $1,875,000 from Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) and from Representatives William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and Jerry Moran (R-KS). Teen Challenge, a program designed for at-risk youth that involves conversion to Christianity, received four earmarks for a total of $600,000 from Representatives Christopher Carney (D-PA), Steve Buyer (R-IN), Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and Howard Coble (R-NC).

The SCA even provides a list of the Top Ten Most Egregious Earmarks:

  1. $750,000 to renovate World Impact Ministries St. Louis Headquarters (Bond, R-MO).
  2. $200,000 to the International Fellowship of Chaplains to pay for their attendance at the Road to Hope Training Program (Gillmor*, R-OH).
  3. $200,000 to the Lower East Side Conservancy, a group that works to restore and preserve living synagogues (Maloney, D-NY).
  4. $200,000 to the Goodwill Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter that seeks to convert its clients to Christianity (Lautenberg, D-NJ).
  5. $850,000 for construction at Morning Star Ranch, a Christian-only camp that trains youth to become lay evangelists (Brownback, R-KS).
  6. $300,000 to Wildwood Ranch, another Christian-only camp (Conyers, D-MI).
  7. $350,000 to Northwest Nazarene University, an evangelical college with a strict code of conduct that does not admit nontheists and possibly gays/lesbians (Craig and Crapo, R-ID).
  8. $450,000 to Grace College, an evangelical Christian college that requires belief in an inerrant Bible for admission (Souder, R-IN).
  9. $150,000 to Quinn Chapel in Chicago for renovation (Davis, D-IL).
  10. $150,000 to New Hope Academy, a reform and rehabilitation program that requires conversion to Christianity (Carney, D-PA).

*Rep. Gillmor died Sept. 5, 2007. He was succeeded by Robert Latta.

A letter was sent to all 107 Congress members who sponsored one of these earmarks.

Constitutionally prohibited earmarks include those directing taxpayer dollars towards religious organizations that provide earmark-supported services only to people who share their religious beliefs or that limit employment opportunities funded by the earmark to fellow believers. Also, the federal funds, or equipment and facilities purchased with federal funds, must not be used for inherently religious activities such as worship, religious instruction or proselytization. Government funding of any of these activities advances the religious mission of the organization; this is a violation of the Establishment Clause and therefore unconstitutional.

The letter was also sent to the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Both groups engage in litigation.

The research was undertaken by Tom Antonsen, a student at Oberlin College, who interned with the SCA.

(via Secular Student Alliance)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]