FFRF challenges Congressional rep’s mission trip to Belarus

New Mexico U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce’s recent trip to Belarus mixed religious evangelism with diplomacy, blurring the constitutional line between the state and church, contends the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a letter sent to Pearce.

Pearce traveled to Belarus in June, speaking to the Belarusian Parliament about “the Holy Bible and its role in the founding of the United States.” He also “talked about how biblical concepts of truth, honesty, fairness, trust and hope—the underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution—can benefit the country that was once a part of the Soviet Union.” In one interview, Pearce claimed he spoke to the parliament “about truth and trust and those basically come from the Ten Commandments.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel called the principles Pearce attributed to the bible “universal, human principles that virtually every human—Christian or otherwise—knows.” Seidel asked Pearce, “Surely you aren’t contending that the chosen people thought that lying was perfectly acceptable before a burning bush told them otherwise?”

“To claim that your particular brand of religion is responsible for universal human values is simply ignorance married to arrogance,” Seidel continued.

Pearce’s trip included personnel from Capitol Ministries, a religious ministry dedicated to evangelizing political leaders. Pearce, “acting less as a Congressman and more as a minister,” according to FFRF, asked members of Parliament to attend bible studies, while Capitol Ministries pitched the bible class developed by Steve Green of Hobby Lobby to the Belarusians.

FFRF led the charge against Green’s curriculum stateside, and succeeded in canceling its planned implementation in Oklahoma’s Mustang Public Schools. FFRF’s letter to Pearce calls the curriculum “counter-factual, highly evangelical, ahistorical, and completely inappropriate for public schools in the U.S.”

Even if the trip was paid for by Capitol Ministries, news reports say Pearce’s congressional credentials cleared the way for him to deliver his speech. Belarusian state media covered the trip as an official congressional trip aimed at fostering an official diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Belarus.

The perceived official nature of Pearce’s visit mixed with overt proselytizing raises “serious constitutional concerns,” said Seidel. He asked Pearce to release all communications between himself, his staff, Capitol Ministries and Belarusian officials regarding the visit, “for the sake of transparency and in the spirit of open government.” The Freedom of Information Act unfortunately does not apply to members of Congress.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 22,500 nonreligious members nationwide, including 250 New Mexican members and a chapter in Albuquerque.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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