BATON ROUGE -- The ACLU of Louisiana calls on Governor Blanco to veto 14 line items in the budget bill for $670,000 that directly funds houses of worship and ministries. 

"Sometimes the public doesn't understand why the ACLU insists on government neutrality in religious matters, but I think anyone can see how a direct gift to a church from the state General Fund is just wrong," said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana.  "The government cannot and should not fund the churches listed and the hundreds of others across the state that were left off the list."

The funding of churches and other religious groups came to light this year because the appropriations showed up as line items in HB1, the Appropriations Bill.  According to legislative officials, aid to local organizations requested by legislators did not appear in the state budget bill directly in previous appropriations bills.  Before Governor Blanco eliminated the urban and rural funds, generally referred to as the "slush funds", legislators' gifts to local organizations were not specifically listed.  In HB1, there were only lump sum appropriations to the funds. 

"The word is that these expenditures were always there, but the Governor's good government measure eliminating the 'slush funds' has just thrown some sunshine on them," said ACLU Lobbyist J. Michael Malec.  "Before, they were buried along with other legislator requested local aid.  Some of the aid is worthy, and some is questionable, but there is little or no accountability for any of the items."

The ACLU attempted to find out more about these appropriations, by requesting from the authors of the amendments added in the House Appropriations Committee, the back-up documentation, which that committee's rules require.  Only one representative provided that documentation.  The others either cited legislative privilege, or failed to respond at all.

Review of the one item for which documentation was supplied showed that the funds are to be used for asphalt and fencing at a church.  These are clearly impermissible uses of public funds, which cannot be constitutionally used to construct, repair or improve church property.  Direct payment of taxpayer money to religious organizations - without any attempt to guarantee, let alone an effective way to ensure, that the government funds will be used exclusively for secular purposes, materials, and activities -  impermissibly advances religion and unambiguously violates the Establishment Clause.  See, e.g., Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793, 818-19 (2000) (plurality); id. at 840 (O'Connor, J., concurring); Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U.S. 589, 621-22 (1988); Committee for Pub. Educ. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 780 (1973); Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 672, 683 (1971); ACLU of Louisiana v. Foster, No. Civ. A 02-1440, 2002 WL 1733651, at *3-*6 (July 24, 2002). [1]   The state legislature simply may not use legislative appropriations to fund churches. 

"The Governor made a good move for open and accountable government by eliminating the 'slush funds.'   Now we call on her to honor her oath of office and veto these blatant violations of the First Amendment," said Cook:

Mary Queen of Vietnam [Catholic Church] ........... $25,000

Fourth District Baptist Church ........... 75,000

Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church ........... 25,000

Greater Baton Rouge Ministerial Alliance, Inc ........... 75,000

Learning Unlimited Christian Academy, Inc ........... 50,000

Greater Antioch Full Gospel Baptist Church ........... 10,000

Abundant Life Baptist Church. ........... 20,000

Pentecost Baptist Church ........... 10,000

Fifth African Baptist Church ........... 10,000

Saint Peter Claver Church in New Orleans ........... 130,000

Stonewall Baptist Church of Bossier City ........... 100,000

Shreveport Christian Church ........... 20,000

The Olive Branch Ministries ........... 20,000

Israelite Baptist Church of Crowley ........... 100,000 

In all but two of the items, no purpose, let alone a legitimate governmental purpose, is listed.  The two others list, ". . .for youth program" and  ". . .for Education and Outreach Program,? purposes which are in no way clearly secular.

"If there is anything clearly established in the case law, it is that the government may not advance religion by giving unrestricted contributions to churches, and that is exactly what these items do," said Cook.

[1]  In the interest of brevity, we have omitted other relevant case law, which supports this basic, time-honored legal principle of government neutrality toward religion.