$28,797 Boondoggle Studies “Intercessory Prayer” (May 1995)

Federal taxes should not be subsidizing a $28,797 study of “intercessory prayer,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote Secretary Donna Shalala, Department of Health and Human Services. To underscore its objections, the Foundation sent Shalala a purple-and-lavendar bumpersticker reading “Nothing Fails Like Prayer.”

The grant was awarded to Scott R. Walker, M.D., to “test the hypothesis that intercessory prayers . . . can have a significant impact on the recovery of substance abusers.” Walker is associated with the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque. The grant was awarded by the Office of Alternative Medicine through the National Institute of Health for the years 1993-1995.

Walker’s grant application says the project will consist of telling clients that “an outside group of individuals may or may not pray by first name for their recovery from substance abuse and problems associated with it.”

The Foundation wrote Shalala:

“The National Institutes of Health have no business funding religious studies. Dr. Walker’s project, predicated on the use of ‘Prayer Teams’ and ‘randomized’ prayer, cannot pass constitutional muster.”

The Foundation asked Shalala to “take whatever actions necessary to ensure that ‘intercessory prayer’ or similar projects lacking secular merit will not receive future public funding or support through your Department or its divisions.”

“Think of the vaccines $28,797 might have paid for–the useful, tangible social gains citizens deserve for this outlay of taxes,” commented Foundation spokesperson Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“Look at the absurdity of this so-called study. Does Dr. Walker really imagine that the deity in question, if it exists, would know which drug abusers are being prayed for by first-name only, in a world of more than 5 billion people? This is sheer superstition, not science, and an insult to taxpayers.”

The Foundation originally sought information on the grant last fall from the Office of Alternative Medicine but had to invoke the Freedom of Information Act before receiving the public information requested. The Office provided no follow-up from Scott and did not know when his official report for the study would be finished.

Freedom From Religion Foundation