The ACLU is Suing USAID

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing USAID, the US Agency for International Development, for refusing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests. The ACLU is seeking documents from July and September 2009 that relate to abstinence education programs supported by USAID.

The ACLU is suing USAID in response to a July 2009 report from the USAID Office of the Inspector General that “9 out of the 10 faith-based organizations using USAID funds and stated clearly that USAID-awarded funds were being used for religious activities.” Examples of religious activities included bible-based curricula and discussions of God’s plan for sex.

It seems pretty clear that USAID was funding religious programs. Their own inspector general’s report is pretty clear on that. It also seems to me that there is no cover-up. The slow response to the document request seems more like bureaucratic inertia than deliberate conspiracy. If USAID was going to cover this up, wouldn’t they start with the OIG report?

I think there are some more interesting questions to look at here. The first, obvious question is constitutionality. Did USAID violate the first amendment of the Constitution through this funding? It’s not certain that it did; there is a question of whether the establishment of religious clause apples to overseas work. If USAID did, what is the correct response? The agency was acting on the direct orders of the White House in providing funding to these groups.

My main question, though, is what exactly was supposed to happen? Why was there a big push to start funding religious groups to engage in international development if we didn’t want them to do religious work? That’s the strength of faith-based groups – they’re religious.

What was the expected result of bringing religious groups into it? It’s not like there were thousands of faith-based NGOs doing amazing work on, say, land reform and excluded from funding because of their religious orientation. If you fund churches to educate people about sex, they are going to do it from a Biblical perspective. Everyone involved had to know that.