Captive audiences and stolen funding.
There is something about a captive audience that gets the fundamentalist salivating. I can understand why actually. Those who are not among the born-again find their attempts to convert others intrusive, aggressive, often rude, usually unpleasant and often on par of a visit to the dentist -- for a root canal. So what does this mean?
Well, the average person will try to be polite but clearly uncomfortable and unwilling. They will be rather obvious that they are not enjoying this interaction and do not desire it. But the fundamentalist ignores such clues and presses forward as no social rudeness is too high a price to pay when souls are at stake. (I speak from experience since my former church often sent me out to convert others. We were trained to be aggressive and weasel our way into their lives in order to convert them.)
Considering that the average non-fundamentalist is not interested they will do their best to avoid a discussion. It is sort of the way people respond when they see two 18 year old “Elders” from the Mormons bicycle to their front step. The door may be open, the TV may be on but the homeowner in hiding in the bathroom pretending to not be home.
One way around this problem for the fundamentalist is to use the power of the state to access involuntary, captive audiences. And if they can get the Bush administration to fund their evangelism all the better. Alas, they have become welfare queens sustaining themselves at the expense of the hard working taxpayer.
I have covered how they attempt to manipulate rules and laws in order to convert school kids by using the government schools and taxpayer funding there. Now the New York Times has a major article on how they are using the prison system to accomplish the same goal.
In both cases they are using a captive audience that exists by virtue of state power. In both cases they are accessing these audiences with state funding. In other words they are using the power of government to confiscate the hard earned incomes of others to fund their evangelism. Need I point out that if they took these funds directly it would be called stealing. But they think that having George Bush take these funds on their behalf makes the all venture legitimate.
The New York Times article starts out with a description of a program for prisoners which is much preferred over normal prison life. Things like privacy for using the toilet are provided. There are books and instead of bars there are doors. There are projects and even pizza and a chance to visit family in normal surroundings.
Access to these special privileges, however, was not dependent on good behaviour per se. It was dependent on satisfying a group of extreme fundamentalists that you were making “spiritual progress”. Now what these fundamentalists mean by spiritual progress is that one is becoming one of them.
One inmate in the program left the easier life it offered because he said his Catholic religion was denigrated by these fundamentalists. Now I know the typical fundie hates Catholicism and thinks Catholics are heretics doomed to hell fire. So when this prisoner says “I personally felt spiritually crushed” I can understand. Other inmates said the fundamentalist staff members would routinely run down and insult other religions.
Apparently a judge found this troubling and well he should. The prison was using taxpayer funds to finance a program with the express purpose of converting prisoners to fundamentalist Christianity. Conversion or advancement toward conversion meant the prisoner was rewarded with a nicer life by the program. If he did not make said conversions or steps in that direction he could be expelled from the program. (You can read a transcript of the trail itself here.)
Now I think it is acceptable that if you have a prison population that the prisoners be allowed access to religious counseling if they request it. They should be allowed to practice their religion when at all possible. I do not think the ministers should be paid by the state. I do not think they should be allowed to solicit conversions. The prisoners should be told that if they wish such things that they may contact any ministers who volunteer for such a program. I would allow them to use space in the prison (as the prisoners really can’t leave for this). But it would not be financed by the state other than indirectly through the use of space in the prison.
In the case I’m referring to here the judge said the ministry overstepped the boundaries and ordered them to return the $1.5 million in taxpayer funding that they used for their evangelism. Remember there are hundreds of similar type ventures all living on state welfare payments. Of course some of the Theopublicans are not happy about this. The merger of church and state is a goal of theirs. They like the idea of using tax funding for evangelism for the same reason socialists like tax funding for charity. Most people like to have the things they want especially if they can force others to pay for them.
These Theopublicans have filed an amicus brief in court trying to overturn the requirement that the taxpayer funds be returned. They want the fundies to be able to keep the money. Those urging the courts to overturn the ruling include Bush administration bureaucrats and attorney generals from the more fundamentalist states such as Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Texas, South Carolina and a couple of others.
These theocrats argue that the showering of state funding on evangelists is a wonderful thing because the purpose of these funds is to reduce crime. So they argue that the purpose is “secular” not religious. Yet the program rewards people for becoming fundamentalists and punishes them if they don’t. The question is not one of intentions but how it is carried out.
They argue that the program is not unconstitutional because the government doesn’t directly promote religion. No, it gives taxpayer funds to evangelists to promote the religion. It is true that Bush and Congressmen and Senators themselves are not in the prison converting people. But they are financing it.
These theopublicans also argue that just because such funding is going to fundamentalists and not other religions is just peachy with them because there is no requirement “that prison officials establish a faith-based program for every religion.”
They come up with an absurd analogy. They argue that if the Navy has a chaplain on a submarine they are “not obligated to have Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim Chaplains on every sub. The Navy can choose to have only one Chaplain even though many, if not, most of the crew adheres to a different religion.” I have no idea why chaplain is capitalized here by the way.
True a submarine underneath the ocean does not carry one chaplain with each denomination. Submarines would need to be several times their size for that to be possible. But prisons are not in the middle of the ocean underwater. They are easily accessible by ministers of hundreds of denominations and there is no reason to restrict access to just fundamentalists. But it is not the access that is the issue it is the blood $1.5 million that people got from the taxpayers.
They again argue that the tax funded program is not religious indoctrination because the “religious conversion... comes as the result of the success of the Program in their lives, not from an affirmative effort to proselytize.” Again if prisoners want to convert to such things they ought to be free to do so. That is not the issue. The issue, which these public officials don’t get is that the program is funded by the taxpayers.
One specific religion is given high sums of tax funding to finance a program that rewards prisoners who convert and expels those who does not. Government is paying for the indoctrination directly. If a fundie nutter evangelist comes to a prison of his own volition and preaches to prisoners who wish to hear his words no problem. The moment he wants money from the pockets of the general public it is a different matter altogether.
They also argue that the government is not involved because it gives these evangelists free reign to do what they want with the money they get. “Quite simply, there is no pervasive involvement or monitoring of the program by government officials.” Say what! They think this is a good thing. So the Bush administration doles out $1.5 million to fundamentalist evangelistic group and there makes no effort at “monitoring of the program” and this is good!
Around America there are millions of people who worked hard to an income. They pay their taxes. To do that they go without things they may need. After all government must be fed even if the kids might go to bed hungry. Instead of that day of rest you’d dearly like you work the overtime to pay the taxes. Instead of buying the kids those Christmas presents they really want you make due with less because the state has to be financed.
And then some fundamentalist nuts come along and take $1.5 million of those funds to finance conversion experiences for prisoners. And these political fucks (and I use the word very intentionally as they really piss me off) argue that this is quite legitimate because the government does not monitor how these funds are used. So people around America are worse off in their personal lives so fundamentalist can access federal funds with no strings attached and no monitoring of how they spend those funds. And these theocratic elected officials say that it is the lack of monitoring how the funds are spent that legitimizers the spending of those funds.
More absurdly they contend that to deny them uncontrolled access to taxpayer funds would be discrimination because: “A rehabilitation program based on the philosophy of Christ or Moses or Buddha or Muhammad should be treated the same a rehabilitation program based on the philosophy of Marx or Rand or Nietzsche or a contemporary social scientist.”
Now are there conversion programs for Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, Marx, Rand or Nietzsche? No. And if such programs existed they ought not be financed on the backs of the taxpayer either.
What I find particularly amusing is that right after they argue that the government has no obligation to fund all groups and can fund only fundamentalists if they choose they then appeal to equal access to funding as a justification for these programs. I believe that all these groups have the equal right to access taxpayer funds on this matter and that is no right whatsoever. If any of them wish to set up volunteer projects funded at their own expense so be it.