Appalling Allocations

Putting A Stop To Earmarks For Evangelism

Putting A Stop To Earmarks For Evangelism

Americans are an exceedingly generous people. In 2006, our people donated nearly $300 billion to charitable organizations.

Many of those groups were religious in nature, being either houses of worship or other types of religiously affiliated organizations.

Every week, many Americans sit in the pews of houses of worship and put money or checks in the collection plate. Some tithe 10 percent of their income. Others give more or less than that, supporting everything from mega-churches with thousands of members to tiny storefront churches.

There’s no shortage of money out there for the religious groups that seek it. This means there is no reason for groups pursuing an explicitly religious agenda to tap the public purse.

Yet some keep doing so. Consider Teen Challenge, for example. This organization is a fundamentalist Christian drug and alcohol recovery program that operates nationwide. It makes startling claims, asserting that the vast majority of youngsters who enter its program overcome their addictions.

These claims have not been subjected to empirical study. Many are skeptical, noting that Teen Challenge essentially offers Bible study and religious conversion as its “treatment.”

Teen Challenge describes itself as a “faith-based Christian drug and alcohol treatment program that seeks to evangelize and disciple individuals who are experiencing difficulties with substance abuse.”

Despite this clear religious cast, Teen Challenge has proved remarkably adept at winning tax aid. Politicians in both parties seem enamored of the group. A recent study by Americans United found more than half a million dollars in tax aid is slated to go to branches of Teen Challenge in four states –; even though the group admits upfront that its goal is to “evangelize and disciple”!

The money was dispersed through earmarks –; a controversial practice whereby allocations for specific groups or projects are slipped into very large appropriations bills. Because the bills are so massive, the allocations are often overlooked.

Earmarks have been in the news lately. Some critics have blasted the practice, saying it’s wasteful and smacks of old-fashioned pork-barrel politics. With earmarks getting renewed scrutiny, Americans United decided to investigate if religious groups were receiving this type of public support.

What we found shocked us: Millions have been targeted toward organizations that definitely have sectarian agendas. Some openly brag on their Web sites about being “Christ centered” and talk about the people they convert. These groups don’t even pretend to be running secular programs. It’s all about pushing fundamentalism 24/7.

Americans are quite capable of deciding which religious groups, if any, they wish to support. People who believe in the mission and approach of Teen Challenge can send it donations. The taxpayer at large should be under no obligation to buttress Teen Challenge’s proselytism efforts.

The sooner these earmarks are shut off the better.