Yesterday, during a Meet & Greet event with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Waukon, Iowa, atheist Laurie Maloney asked for her thoughts on church/state separation.
Klobuchar said she was a strong supporter of it… but the longer she spoke, the more clear it became that she doesn’t seem to know where to draw the line.
MALONEY: … My name is Laurie. I’m an Allamakee County resident and I really appreciate you being here today. I’m a great admirer of you, and I’m considering, seriously, caucusing for you, but there’s one issue I don’t know where you stand on, so that’s why I wanted to ask that question today. And that is regarding the separation of church and state.
I feel there’s been an assault from the extreme Religious Right on that and it’s resulting in a lot of discrimination of other religions, as well as secular voters like myself. One thing that concerns me about your past record was, I believe, back in 2006, in Minnesota, you supported $400,000 going to the Assembly of God to fund some kind of, you know, Addiction Prevention, and they’re an extreme religious group.
So… I’m just wondering, I’ve never heard your stance on separation of church and state. And just wondering what that might be and how you might implement that.
[Hemant’s note: It was $500,000. In 2008, Klobuchar earmarked that money for a ministry called Minnesota Teen Challenge in order to assist with a drug prevention program. That ministry, however, is run by the Assemblies of God. It also listed “homosexuality” as a possible consequence of drug use, among other completely insane Christian conspiracy theories. It’s possible Klobuchar didn’t know any of that, but that ignorance is a problem in and of itself. That said, former Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, who’s the current Attorney General of Minnesota, also supported the earmark.]
KLOBUCHAR: I am a lawyer and my husband’s standing right behind you, behind your phone that you’re videoing me on… [he’s] a constitutional expert as well. So I believe very strongly in the separation of church and state. And you will see in my record, I think, bills that I’ve worked on, and I’ve worked on these issues, when you can have little things, like I have a bill that I don’t think we’ve gotten done yet, which allows for energy for non-profits, and that includes churches and religious institutions if they want to, say, retrofit their building. They tend to be in old buildings, right? And they want to do things to make things more energy efficient, that they get a tax credit for doing this. It’s a very good idea, supported by the religious community, supported by energy, and I was able to work out the language in a way that was satisfactory for people like yourself who care very much about the separation of church and state, and still maintain my Republican co-sponsors so we could get it done, which we will do.
And then the second thing is that, with regard to the thing you asked about, I think that was a program called Teen Challenge, and none of that went to religion, and it was supported by Keith Ellison and myself, because while it was one kind of treatment program, there were many others. And if you look at his record, I think he believes very strongly in the separation of church and state.
The third thing is that I am someone of faith. I’m congregational and have been involved in the Senate Prayer Breakfast for a long time. And it’s really, if you’ve heard my story about my dad, been a big part of my life. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t respect the Constitution and the separation of church and state, which I do, so I hope you will caucus [for me].
The answer… leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s great that she says she supports separation of church and state, but her actions show she has no problem giving money to a bigoted religious group that actively spreads misinformation. Even her self-selected example of satisfying both the secular and religious sides is her using taxpayer money to fund energy efficiency at churches. But many activists would tell you that even if the money is going for a secular purpose, that’s money that should be coming from the church’s own bank account! The government shouldn’t be paying for a church to fix its walls, buy new pews, or get solar panels since that just leaves them with more money to use for proselytizing. It’s an indirect government benefit for churches that can afford to have a building. It’s still a problem.
This is what has always bugged me about Klobuchar: Her “moderate” positions are often just rehashed conservative talking points. She’s giving up ground to the Right even when it’s not necessary. She does this all the time. I want a principled liberal, not a wishy-washy moderate who functions as a de facto Republican.
Democrats could easily say that the government will not fund religious organizations unless they’re providing a secular service available to all who need help, and playing by the same rules as everyone else. That means no bigotry and no discrimination. That means promoting evidence-based policies at all times. That means requiring those groups to be fully transparent with how they use the money.
You can be religious and still support all of that.
It’s not anti-religious to be pro-Constitution. Amy Klobuchar still hasn’t figured that out.
By the way, Maloney wrote on Facebook that Klobuchar’s husband specifically sought her out later to assure her “they both believed the Constitution clearly addresses the separation of church and state and they believe in that whole heartedly.”
If that’s true, then her rhetoric needs to match it. This is not a place where compromise is possible. Conservative Christians have used every crack in that principle to their advantage, and Klobuchar is playing right into their hands by saying she would gladly give federal money to churches in certain cases.
(Thanks to Justin for the link)