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Demanding Respect For All Religious Louisianans

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August 15, 2007

Last month, a man dressed as a priest picketed outside our national headquarters for a couple of days with a sign proclaiming that we are “anti-Christ.” (We’ve been called the anti-Christ before, so this was a bit friendlier.) We support this gentleman’s right to free speech, but we might also have steered him to our very lengthy fact sheet detailing the many times the ACLU has stood up for the rights of religious Americans – including Christians – in the recent past.

On Monday in Louisiana, we stood up for all the state’s Christians, along with other faith-based and non-religious groups, when we sued Governor Kathleen Blanco and State Treasurer John Neely Kennedy for singling out two Christian churches for financial gifts totaling $120,000 in taxpayer funds.

Now, we wouldn’t have a problem with these grants to churches if they had been neutral and carefully earmarked for drug rehab services, feeding the homeless, or other non-religious programs – and provided that they didn’t use state money to promote religious beliefs. But, for some reason, no one will say what the money is going to be used for. The money appears to be an outright, unrestricted cash handout from Louisiana to two particular churches, and that’s a constitutional problem.

We’re guessing that of the estimated 4.3 million Louisianans, not all of them are Christians. And we’re guessing that these taxpayers, along with the state’s Christian population, aren’t interested in letting the state legislature pick and choose its favorite religious groups. Is it fair for two churches to receive handsome sums of money from the state while the rest do not?

As the ACLU’s Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief often finds itself pointing out, the ACLU works hard to protect the rights of religious and nonreligious individuals in the United States. We think religious practice is a fundamental human right – one that should not be subject to government interference. The framers of the Constitution believed as much; we’re only asking the court to respect the rights of all Louisianans, and prohibit the transfer of these taxpayer funds.