One of the many, many things critics of the Trump administration have noted over the past few years is that, no matter how many times Donald Trump or Mike Pence talk about the importance of “religious freedom,” they really just mean special perks for conservative Christians. It’s the reason the administration is surrounded by right-wing evangelicals.
It’s not just lip service for gullible people, either. It has serious policy implications. Yeganeh Torbati of ProPublica has a disturbing story about how the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has a budget of more than $27 billion and gives aid to foreign countries, has been giving Christian organizations — or at least groups that plan to help Christians — grants at the expense of other groups that might serve a broader base.
One of the groups selected for the newest awards has no full-time paid staff, no experience with government grants and a financial tie that would typically raise questions in an intense competition for limited funds. The second organization received its first USAID direct grant after extensive public comments by its leader and allies highlighting what they described as a lack of U.S. assistance to Christians. The two groups — a charity that primarily serves Christian Iraqis and a Catholic university — were not originally listed as front-runners, according to a document seen by ProPublica.
Part of the problem is that this administration is influenced by religious organizations that want money steered in the direction of Christians. It’s not that Christians in certain areas aren’t in need of help, but that they’re no more or less in need of help than local Muslims who are also being persecuted by the Islamic State and other radical groups.
And USAID and State Department officials questioned whether Christian groups were significantly needier than the broader Iraqi population victimized by Islamic State, including Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
“There was a pushback, a feeling like we shouldn’t be doing this, first of all because of our own policies and regulations, and secondly because they’re not worse off than the others,” a former USAID official said.
Also disturbing? When Christian Nationalists demanded that Christian groups received aid more quickly, Pence’s allies jumped in to remove a career civil servant who worked in USAID’s Middle East offices. Her colleagues said she had been “Penced.”
All of this involves an organization that is supposed to be free of political or religious influence. Grants should be awarded based on which groups can provide the most effective help to people, regardless of their religious views. But because Republicans are in charge, the rules don’t matter and their personal brand of mythology gets preference over everyone else.
It’s conservative corruption that hurts people around the world. It won’t change until Trump and Pence are Penced — and the party that put them in power is thoroughly humiliated on a national scale. Last night’s elections were a step in the right direction.
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