This is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment deals with the first sixteen words. Congress is prohibited from making laws respecting the establishment of religion or the “free exercise” thereof. This is the core of America’s separation of church and state doctrine. While the wording of the Amendment specifies Congress, Supreme Court decisions have, over the years, included Executive Branch agencies of government in the prohibition, since Congress controls the funding of those agencies. Additionally, the 14th Amendment (equal protection) and related court decisions have applied this prohibition to the States. Essentially, no branch of government is supposed to be involved in establishing, favoring or promoting any particular religion. Such activities would be a violation of the Establishment Clause.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) has reported extensively about the ongoing case of the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), a Minnesota public charter school that is run by the Muslim American Society (MAS) and appears to function as an Islamic sectarian school. Those reports may be viewed here, here, here and here. This is one current example of Islam being allowed to encroach into the public domain at taxpayer expense.
But TIZA is not the only example. The Federal government is also pursuing programs, with public funding allocated by Congress, that clearly favor the religion of Islam. Among these efforts are programs conducted by the US Department of State (DOS). The IPT reported on DOS aligning itself with known Islamists who publicly support radical and even terrorist elements within the US and abroad. This program involved DOS funding and oversight for two Palestinian television crews to come to the US to create documentaries related to “life of Muslims in America.” As part of this effort, the Palestinian “TV crew will conduct interviews with local Muslim leaders and individuals, visit Muslim institutions and organizations...”. Quite arguably, this program involves DOS expending taxpayer money to highlight and favor Islam.
Seemingly at odds with this pro-Islam posture is a report in the Washington Post on July 30 that identifies a long-running rift between the US Agency for International Development (USAID), an agency within DOS, and the Inspector General’s Office (OIG) for USAID. This rift relates to proposed USAID programs that would support, highlight and enhance Islamic organizations and other Muslim concerns. USAID OIG and agency attorneys took the position that such programs would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. In the Washington Post report, there is this quote from the USAID legal counsel:
"...the legal test goes beyond that to [include] endorsement of religion, indoctrination of religions, excessive entanglement with religion. We have to try to accomplish our secular purpose while still not violating these legal principles."
This is a clear statement of a legal position that USAID will not engage in programs that include “endorsement of religion, indoctrination of religion, excessive entanglement of religion.”
This legal posture by USAID attorneys apparently does not transfer to other DOS organizations. Effective June 23, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed Farah Anwar Pandith to the position of “Special Representative to Muslim Communities.” The DOS website section related to Pandith states this as the mission of her office:
“Her office is responsible for executing Secretary Clinton’s vision for engagement with Muslims around the world on a people-to-people and organizational level. She reports directly to the Secretary of State.”
There are no similar Special Representatives for Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or other religious communities.
On July 9, the Secretary of State’s office issued a cable to US embassies and consular posts around the world. The subject of this cable was “PUBLIC DIPLOMACY RESOURCES FOR RAMADAN 2009.” Ramadan is one of Islam’s most important religious observances that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan celebrates the time when, according to Islam, the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. The DOS cable directs that the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) “has assembled a range of innovative and traditional tools to support Posts' outreach activities during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. This cable highlights these tools and requests Posts to report on use of IIP programs and products for Ramadan programming to Regional Bureau PD offices and IIP Geographic Office Directors.” Further, “Post should refer to local religious authorities to confirm dates.”
The DOS cable describes numerous “tools” developed by the IIP for State Department posts and personnel to utilize during Ramadan. These include books, power point presentations, essays, posters and speakers related to Islam in America, mosques in America, Muslim life in America, “building on faith” (Islam) in America and similar topics.
There do not appear to be similar religious outreach programs within the Department of State for Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus or any other religious group. It is clear the US Department of State, particularly at the senior levels, has an institutional affinity for Islam and Muslims. Legal officers within at least one division of DOS have raised serious Establishment Clause concerns about governmental programs with a religious focus. However, it appears no less than the Secretary of State has decided to ignore those concerns.