The following is Rev. Gaddy’s letter to Governor Jindal regarding the use of taxpayer funds to travel to church services.
September 1, 2009
Governor Bobby Jindal
P.O. Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9004
Dear Governor Jindal,
I write to you as both the pastor of Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, LA and as the president of Interfaith Alliance, a national organization dedicated to protecting the boundaries between religion and government for the good of both institutions. The Baton Rouge Advocate’s recent report on your official travel to church services around the state funded by taxpayer money is of great concern to me for several reasons.
If you were traveling to these churches to worship with the various congregations, you should have paid your own expenses to get there as did the other worshippers. If you were traveling to these churches for the purpose of sharing your personal faith and encouraging faith in others, state funds absolutely should not have been used to pay your expenses. Indeed, in that instance, your state-funded actions were a violation of the United States Constitution’s promise of religious freedom which has been a critical contributor to the vitality of religion in our nation. If you were traveling to these churches for political purposes, you should not have been there in the first place, regardless of who funded the travel.
I know that you told the Advocate these trips were about providing you the opportunity to talk to citizens. Why during a service of sacred worship? And, why only in churches? I believe you can find venues other than houses of worship to have official meetings, so that all citizens have an opportunity to hear from you – and for you to hear from them.
Governor Jindal, it appears that you owe the people of Louisiana an apology and the treasurer of the state a reimbursement of at least $45,000 in addition to whatever money was spent in the period not covered by the Advocate’s investigation. No taxpayer money should have been used for your travel.
I am well aware of how elected officials welcome opportunities to make public appearances at houses of worship. However, as I am sure you know, an invitation to a public official – sought or offered – to speak at a house of worship raises questions for both the official and, ultimately, for the house of worship. Indeed, your use of a house of
worship for political purposes can jeopardize its legal identity. Federal tax laws place restrictions on what houses of worship can and cannot do in relation to politics.
As a person who cares deeply about the integrity of houses of worship and the influence of the Louisiana state government, I urge you to be careful about using your elected office as cover for an event that has more to do with politics than it has to do with governing.
For the sake of religion, please do not politicize houses of worship in Louisiana and rob those of us who minister there of the credibility that allows our faith to be a healing force in our state and across our land.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, Interfaith Alliance
Pastor for Preaching & Worship, Northminster Church
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.