Letter to FEMA

Michael D. Brown
Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness & Response
FEMA
500 C St, SW
Washington DC 20172

Dear Mr Brown:

Our group, working to protect the constitutional separation between church and state, was shocked and dismayed to see FEMA promote Rev. Pat Robertson's ministry, Operation Blessing, on equal footing with the American Red Cross! We are writing to request that FEMA immediately disassociate itself from Operation Blessing.

The FEMA website prominently endorses Operation Blessing, placing it third on a list of 21 charities it is enthusiastically encouraging U.S. citizens to donate to for the benefit of victims of Hurricane Katrina

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While FEMA deservedly places the American Red Cross first on the list, we cannot understand how an openly evangelical charity rates a major governmental stamp of approval. The American Red Cross is set up to serve, has a long, proven history, was first on the spot in stricken areas, and has a Congressional charter to provide assistance to victims of catastrophes. It does not care if recipients are Baptists, Hindus or atheists. It does not use catastrophes as an excuse to proselytize, and its mission is solely "to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies."

By contrast, Operation Blessing, which was founded by evangelist Robertson in 1978, boasts a fundamentalist, Christian Statement of Faith. Assistance which it may provide has the agenda of promoting the bible, belief in the trinity, the imminent return of Jesus Christ, and worldwide evangelism.

Rev. Robertson has deeply shamed the country by his notorious suggestion that the United States ought to assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. This unforgivable remark is just the latest in a long string of embarrassing and outlandish pronouncements, such as his 2003 suggestion that "maybe we need a very small nuke thrown" at State Department offices.

Operation Blessing inexplicably has not expelled Rev. Robertson from its national board. To direct Americans to hand over their hard-earned money to a group affiliated with Robertson is a travesty of good judgment and a breach of the separation between church and state. It hurts FEMA credibility. FEMA ought not to be endorsing any overtly religious charity, much less one tainted by the remarks and actions of this controversial preacher.

Of further concern to us is the fact that of a list of 21 charities singled out by FEMA for endorsement at your website, at least 18 are religious, most of them denominational!

While FEMA's website might certainly include a sentence encouraging U.S. citizens to give to the charities of their choice, FEMA swims into dangerous waters when it starts selecting some denominational charities, while leaving out others. For instance, FEMA includes B'nai B'rith, but excludes Mormons, advertises the Southern Baptist Convention, but excludes American Baptists. With some thousands of Christian and other denominations in the United States, clearly FEMA can't include them all. FEMA appears to be using its governmental power and prestige to endorse some religions and ignore others.

Believers are free to give to the churches and religious agencies of their choice, but it is not appropriate for our federal government to be telling them to do so. Should we not be donating as Americans, regardless of faith or lack of faith, rather than as Mennonites, Presbyterians, Lutherans or Catholics?

May we hear from you over this significant First Amendment violation at your earliest convenience?

Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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