Freethought Today · Vol. 23 No. 2 March 2006

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Let Us Prey

Robertson, Religions Reap Tax Dollars

Operation Blessing, the religious charity founded by the notorious Rev. Pat Robertson, is now receiving $14.4 million in annual government grants, up from $108,000 two years ago.

Despite Robertson's initial criticism of Pres. Bush's faith-based initiative" as a "Pandora's box," Operation Blessing has been cashing in on it. Robertson's agency was one of 21 recipients in the first round of grants from the Compassion Capital Fund in October 2002.

Over the past three years, according to Bill Sizemore of The Virginian-Pilot (Jan. 16, 2006), Robertson's group has received $1.5 million through that program.

The newspaper ran a photograph of Operation Blessing sacks which read: "Operation Blessing gives this bag of goods as a demonstration of God's love for you."

Each sack is emblazoned with the favorite bible verse of born-agains:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Reportedly, Operation Blessing has passed on two-thirds of the funding to subgrantee hunger-relief agencies. One such recipient is Lighthouse Mission, a street ministry on Long Island in New York, which, The Virginian-Pilot notes, is "unabashedly evangelical." Through Operation Blessing, it received a refrigerated trailer and a computer system. Its mission is not only to feed the hungry, but it "spiritually feeds the soul," according to its website.

Of Operation Blessing's $243 million revenue last year, 90% was in donations of goods, such as surplus nonfat dry milk through the Department of Agriculture. Over a two-year period, Operation Blessing has received $22.7 million in dry milk.

Operation Blessing, with a paid staff of 40 at its Virginia Beach headquarters, does not hire nonChristians.

"We're a Christian faith-based organization," Operation Blessing employee Deborah Bensen told the Pilot. "We hire people that are able to help support our mission."

"If a policy that 'we don't hire Catholics, Jews or Muslims' offends you, I don't have to explain to you what's wrong with the faith-based initiative," says U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., a leading critic of the faith-based initiative.

Operation Blessing has received smaller grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development. It is also part of a consortium of eight groups receiving a USAID grant for HIV/AIDS treatment, care and prevention in 14 countries.

Nearly a quarter of Pres. Bush's $15 billion foreign campaign to fight AIDS is going to religious groups as "church partners" who emphasize abstinence over condom use. Bush's three-year AIDS program is being diluted, according to secular critics, by grants to religious groups without AIDS experience.

The New Partners Initiative reserves $200 million through the 2008 budget for community and church groups with little or no background in government grants.

Associated Press reports that Christian conservative allies of the president are pressuring him to give fewer grants to established groups which distribute condoms and work with prostitutes.

Award recipients announced in January include:

  • Samaritan's Purse,run by evangelist Billy Graham's son, Franklin, whose mission is "meeting critical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine, disease and natural disaster while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ."

  • World Vision, a Christian relief organization whose mission statement notes, "We seek to follow Jesus."

  • Catholic Relief Services, awarded $62 million to teach abstinence and fidelity in three countries; $335 million in a consortium providing anti-retroviral treatment, and $9 million to help orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS. The Catholic agency refuses to promote, purchase or distribute condoms.

  • HOPE, a global relief agency founded by the International Churches of Christ.

  • World Relief, founded by the National Association of Evangelicals, receiving $9.7 million for "abstinence work" in four countries.

The Republican-led Congress has mandated that one-third of AIDS prevention money be reserved for "abstinence and fidelity." U.S. guidelines require that condom promotion must be accompanied by messages of abstinence and fidelity. Conversely, those preaching abstinence are not required to provide condoms or condom education.

The Bush administration promotes the so-called "ABC" strategy: abstinence before marriage, being faithful, and, lastly, condoms.

Focus on the Family, run by Bush ally James Dobson, interjected itself last year, complaining about promotion of condoms even by some U.S.-funded religious groups. Secular groups were tarred as being "pro-prostitution or pro-abortion." Targeted were CORE and IMPACT, two major AIDS-fighting consortiums, which in turn funded many community and religion-based groups. A grant to Population Services International, a leading nonprofit condom distributor, was delayed following a complaint by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, and six other members of Congress, sent a letter in January to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, accusing a "narrow, ideological viewpoint" in denying condoms to high-risk populations.

Last year, religious organizations accounted for more than 23% of all groups receiving HIV/AIDS grants, according to the State Department.

"If you are facing a public health crisis, you hire professionals with a proven track record. You don't hire organizations with an ideological agenda," said Jodi Jacobson, director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, in Takoma Park (Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2006).

Overseeing USAID programs is Paul Bonicelli, new Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. He is former dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College, a notorious ultra-fundamentalist Christian college in Virginia, catering to Christian home-schooled students.


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