BATON ROUGE-The ACLU of Louisiana urges the State Senate to strip earmarked tax dollars out of the budget that go directly to fund churches and evangelistic ministries in violation of the First Amendment. The State House has already passed the appropriations bill that contains at least 10 questionable items inserted by legislators without any detailed information about the churches and groups slated for special favors.
"Churches are important to their members, but they must be supported by voluntary giving, not government subsidies," ACLU Executive Director Joe Cook said. "Individual legislators are trying to slip in earmarks of nearly $500,000 for their favored ministries that could support preaching and proselytizing."
HB1, the Appropriations Bill is one of several bills the legislature considers each year which taken together, make up the state budget for the year. None of the questionable appropriations was in the original bill. All were added in by amendments offered in the Appropriations Committee. The package of committee amendments then was approved by the full House.
"We don't usually follow the Appropriations Committee too closely," said ACLU contract lobbyist J. Michael Malec. "Most of the civil liberties issues are in criminal law, health and welfare, open government and other areas in other committees. I've been here ten years, and I can't remember anything like this before."
Legislative officials noted that before Governor Blanco eliminated the urban and rural funds, often called "slush funds," local expenditures by legislators to groups in their districts did not appear in HB1 directly, but only as appropriations to the urban and rural funds, which may explain why such direct items have not been in the bill in years past.
The ACLU requested back-up documentation for the questionable budget items, which by the rules of the Appropriations Committee are required for expenditures. A few legislators were responsive to our request and have provided information, but the others claimed legislative privilege or did not answer the query. We still lack information to justify the following, which show the legislator and the designated budget items to the right:
Rep. Ernest Baylor, Jr.
2835 Hollywood Avenue, Ste. 270 Stonewall Baptist Church of Bossier City-$100,000
Shreveport, LA 71108 Shreveport Christian Church-$20,000
(318)632-2050 (Fax) The Olive Branch Ministries-$20,000
Rep. Cheryl A. Gray for Rep. Austin Badon
1100 Poydras St., Ste. 2621 Saint Peter Claver Church in New Orleans-$130,000 New Orleans, LA 70163
225-342-8336 (BR fax)email@example.com
Rep. John A. Alario, Jr.
1063 Muller Parkway Israelite Baptist Church of Crowley-$100,000Westwego, LA 70094-5616
Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock
Saratoga St., Ste. 7 Learning Unlimited Christian Academy, Inc.-$50,000New Orleans, LA 70115 Greater Antioch Full Gospel Baptist Church-$10,000
(504)896-1480 (Fax) Abundant Life Baptist Church-$20,000
225-342-8336 (BR fax) Pentecost Baptist Church-$10,000 firstname.lastname@example.org Fifth African Baptist Church-$10,000
"We as taxpayers have a right know how our money will be used on every line item, and the legislature needs to pass a bill, which would require full disclosure of who gets the money, for what legitimate purpose and require a legislative audit to ensure compliance," said Cook. "Absent that, the state appears in the listed instances to endorse giving taxpayer money to certain churches or for religious activities and materials, which obviously violates the Constitution."