A national state/church watchdog is calling on the U.S. Department of State to discontinue funding refurbishment of places of worship abroad.
The 16,500-member Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., sent a letter to Ann Stock, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department, seeking a halt to the practice.
The discretionary tax money is paid through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation for preservation, protection and restoration of items of cultural significance. In 2010, the Fund awarded nearly $6 million in projects ranging from restoration of museum pieces to the archeological documentation of medieval ruins.
“Unfortunately, of that figure, more than $2 million in U.S. federal funding was spent on the preservation of religious institutions, such as minarets, temples, mosques and Christian churches,” noted Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
“The result is that public funds are being used for the direct benefit of religious organizations and structures abroad. These multi-million dollar expenditures to religious institutions are made in the midst of a severe economic recession. Under the guise of foreign goodwill, the Ambassadors Fund diverts crucial tax dollars to directly benefit religious organizations in a manner that defies the U.S. Constitution as well as the basis of our secular republic,” Gaylor added.
For example, U.S. tax dollars last year went toward the restoration of: an early 20th century cathedral in El Salvador; a convent in Guatemala; a Catholic church in Nicaragua, and 17th and 18th century colonial chapels in Bolivia. “The Roman Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest institutions in the world. Let this church pay to restore its own colonial chapels, convents and cathedrals — which, we might add, are a vestige of religious imperialism which caused untold misery, and which Simon Bolivar fought to free people from,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.
The letter quotes the Virginia Act of Establishing Religious Freedom, penned by Thomas Jefferson, as a tenet upon which the U.S. government is founded: “[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”
FFRF’s letter also invokes James Madison’s famed remark that it is wrong to force a citizen to contribute even “three pence” in support of an establishment of religion.
“The decision to allocate public funds for the purpose of rebuilding churches, mosques, temples, and other religious landmarks impermissibly entangles the U.S. government in a highly political arena: the message and work of religious organizations,” FFRF’s letter noted. Some religious groups seeking U.S. monetary aid “espouse ideologies that are in opposition to U.S. policies and law (e.g., the persecution of other religious and/or irreligious groups, the subjugation of women, and the vilification of responsible family planning).”
What cannot be funded by tax dollars domestically may not constitutionally be subsidized abroad, Gaylor pointed out.
“We urge the Department of State to cease funding the refurbishment of religious institutions abroad through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation or any other federal coffer. In economically challenging times such as these, it makes little sense to spend precious tax dollars on projects that undermine the history and identity of this great nation,” Gaylor concluded.
Please contact the State Department asking to immediately bar places of worship from eligibility for grants via the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Assistant Secretary Ann Stock
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
U.S. Department of State, SA-5
2200 C State, N.W.
Washington DC 20522-0500
Use the State Department’s web form to register your complaint. Be sure to select “Foreign Policy” in the “Topic” drop-down menu.