Bobby Jindal Lets His State Starve But Freaks When Federal Funds For Religious Group Are Revoked

101112_bobby_jindal_frown_ap_328 (1) There’s a program being run by the Bossier, LA Sheriff’s office called the Young Marine Program. It promotes “mental, moral and physical development” in young people 8 to 18, a pretty noble goal. Unfortunately for its federal funding, it also promotes Christianity. To wit:

Upon joining the Young Marines, each recruit will undergo basic recruit training for a minimum of 26 hours. During this time, the youth will have the opportunity to learn military history, customs and courtesies, close order drill,, physical fitness, rank structure and other subjects pertaining to life skills. Most importantly, the youth will learn to bond and relate with other young recruits and the opportunity to interact with caring adult mentors that are committed to providing them with a safe place to develop and grow with special emphasis on the love of God and fidelity to our country.(source)

Ah, that’s already enough to disqualify the program from federal funds. But there is more. The pledge that recruits are exhorted to take is as follows:

From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. Semper Fidelis.

There is also the requirement that participants must attend “the church of my faith.” Now, all of this would be just fine if it weren’t being run and promoted by a government employee. This is why the federal funding for the Young Marine Program was revoked a few months ago – unless those mentions of God were taken out of the program material. Sheriff Julian Whittington refused to do so and the funds were history. This did not sit well with the sheriff of Bossier, so he dropped a note (PDF) to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal on May 23rd. His rights are being violated, blah,blah,blah…

As a Christian, Sheriff and American citizen, I am writing you to express my frustration and concern over the persistent aggression and infringement of our religious freedoms which have been imposed upon the law enforcement grant programs, specifically related to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE)… At this time, the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office has been denied funding by the LCLE for both the Bossier Sheriff’s Young Marines Program and the Bossier Youth Diversion Program due to prayer and the mention of God in the programs. This matter is of great importance to me, not because of funding for these programs, but for the principle of this issue. My office is fortunate enough to have the resources to provide important programs such as these when funding is denied. My concern is that other agencies may be dependent on these funds and therefore agree to these unacceptable terms in order to receive funding. This is an appalling situation where someone at the Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, in Washington, D.C. could, would and did go to great lengths to prevent even the mere mention of God in any way to the youth in these programs… I think this is an area where compromise is not an option and request it be given your prompt attention.

Would you like some nice cheese with that whine, Sheriff? The guy admits that he doesn’t even need the funding! Now, a smart governor would toss that letter in the round file but, as my colleague Hemant Mehta of Patheos notes, Jindal is not a smart governor. And he went on to prove that by joining in at Whittington’s “In God We Trust Rally” on the 4th of July (which brought out country singer, Lee Greenwood, to mouth platitudes, too). There, he spoke out about the overreach of the government, how prayer is not contagious and how freedom of religion doesn’t equal freedom from religion. We’ve been here before with dumb Republicans. They just never learn, do they?

They also never seem to be able to understand a few things about the place of religion in public policy, federal funds and how those two things relate. Jindal and Whittington need to have it explained to them – in very small words, seemingly – that nobody is restricting their right to practice their own religion. Nobody gives a damn who they pray to or how they practice their faith. What we DO care about is that a government office (two of them, actually) is promoting religion in a program designed for children. Using their government jobs to shove their religion on other people’s kids is what is getting them in trouble.

prayer-in-school

Randall T. Hayes of The Bald Cypress blog, has a few excellent points in his report on this whole brouhaha. For one thing, the Sheriff’s office has laid itself open for a lawsuit which, Hayes notes, would likely be successful. Precedent has been set on this sort of thing, with this being similar to school programs that promoted religion. He’s also suspicious of Jindal’s motives:

As someone who was raised Hindu, Bobby Jindal must be aware that oaths describing obligations to “God” and instructions to attend “church” are not even inclusive of all “people of faith.” I’m not sure if Jindal is sincerely acting with the zeal of the convert or if he is just a shamelessly needy and power-craving politician who is pandering to the crowd. Both of those things may be true.

The Young Marine Program is well-meaning, but it is simply not legal for a sheriff’s office to be promoting and running it. Sheriffs are government employees, as much as some of them would loathe that description and, as such, are bound by the Establishment Clause. As is the governor of any state. They are not preachers and they should not be flogging religion from their offices. How many times do we have to say that America is not a Christian nation? That was rhetorical, of course. We need to say it every time a conservative, evangelical, right-winger whines about how they are victims because they can’t push their faith or discriminate against others. Sheriff Whittington, Governor Jindal, perhaps you should re-think your career choices. Go start your own church: stop trying to turn the Parish, the state and the government into one.