The Freedom From Religion Foundation was the first group to insist that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) remove Pat Robertson's charity, Operation Blessing," from its prominent place on a list of FEMA-endorsed charities helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor faxed a strong letter of complaint to (former) FEMA director Michael D. Brown on Friday, Sept. 2. The Foundation also pressured FEMA through an emailed action alert.
Someone at FEMA apparently listened, because sometime over the Labor Day weekend, FEMA revamped its website and revised the list of FEMA-endorsed charities. The original website listing had placed Pat Robertson's "Operation Blessing" second or third on a list of 21 charities.The secular American Red Cross was first on the list, followed by America's Second Harvest. At most, there were only two other secular groups on the list of 21 charities, the Foundation charged.
Operation Blessing, an evangelical Christian charity, was founded by Rev. ("take him out") Robertson in 1978. Robertson still serves on its national board.
The governmental endorsement of Operation Blessing has been a media boon for Robertson. CNN and other TV outlets, as well as Associated Press and major daily newspapers, publicized a toll-free number for Operation Blessing for days as part of hurricane coverage.
"The mass media, and certainly FEMA itself, never warned the generous American public that Operation Blessing was Robertson's charity," Gaylor noted.
"Rev. Robertson has deeply shamed the country by his notorious suggestion in August that the United States ought to assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez," Gaylor wrote. "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 boasts a fundamentalist Christian statement of faith and fundamentalist agenda.
An expos on Operation Blessing and Robertson ran in The Nation (Sept. 7, 2005). Columnist Max Blumenthal charged that "Robertson has used the tax-exempt, nonprofit Operation Blessing as a front for his shadowy financial schemes."
The Virginian Pilotin 1994 revealed that Operation Blessing planes transported diamond-mining equipment for a Robertson venture approved by Mobutu Sese Seko, then-dictator of then-Zaire (now Congo). Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs, which investigated Robertson, found he "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications." Robertson was not prosecuted, thanks to a decision by Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, to whom Robertson had donated $35,000 in campaign contributions. (Earley, Blumenthal revealed, now works with Watergate felon Chuck Colson's prison ministry.)
The Sept. 5 "700 Club," Robertson's TV show, featured a black minister who implied the people of New Orleans "are doing this to themselves."
The Foundation also blasted as "useless" Pres. Bush's national day of prayer (Friday, Sept. 16) proclamation in remembrance of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"Does Pres. Bush imagine that putting on the mantle of piety substitutes for action--or previous inaction--by his government?" Gaylor asked.
"Is this proclamation a camouflage to draw attention away from the most disastrous governmental response to a disaster in U.S. history?
"Americans are free to pray or not to pray, but it is not the business of our U.S. president to direct citizens to pray."
The Foundation previously objected to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's official appeal that all Louisiana citizens pray on Wednesday, Aug. 31, the day after the levees broke.
"As usual, God gets the credit--even for a catastrophe dubbed an 'act of God'--but never gets the blame. Where was their god?
"The 19th century's most famous agnostic, Col. Robert Green Ingersoll, had it right when he observed: 'The hands that help are better far than lips that pray.' "
To read the full statements and press releases, go to ffrf.org/news, where Foundation members and Freethought Today subscribers may sign up to receive news releases and action alerts by email.