In my editor's column last week, I wrote about the controversy regarding the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. As one might expect, the column drew lots of comments (62, the last time I checked). One of our regular commmenters, CHG, at first claimed that President Obama admitted to being Muslim, and attached a link to a George Stephanopoulos interview (in which it was clear, the president did not claim to be Muslim). In later comments, he sent a links — one from Reverend Moon's Washington Times and another from a right-wing website — that decried the fact that the U.S. was spending tax-payer dollars to "build" mosques around the world.
Upon researching the issue, I learned that there indeed is a federal aid program that spends our tax dollars on foreign mosques (among many other kinds of structures in other countries). Here is a summation from the conservative website, Daily Caller:
Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, told The Daily Caller that the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is a type of diplomatic effort and outreach, what she says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “soft power.”
“It is helping to preserve our cultural heritage. It is not just to preserve religious structures,” Thompson said. “It is not to preserve a religion. It is to help us as global inhabitants preserve cultures.”
In a document provided on Monday to Indiana Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the State Department explained that the practice of funding such projects became acceptable in 2003 when the Justice Department declared that the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause did not preclude federal funds from going to preserve religious structures if they had cultural importance.
So let's review, shall we? The Cultural Preservation program was started by the Bush administration in 2003, vetted by a Republican Congress, and approved by John Ashcroft's Justice Department. But now that the Democrats (and the dreaded combo of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) are in power, this has become yet another false cause celebre for right-wing websites and other media to demonstrate how Obama is a Muslim terrorist sympathizer.
Getting to the bottom of these issues takes time and a little research, which is what conservative mouth-pieces (and website commenters) hope we won't do. And sadly, for a large number of those who are predisposed to buy into this right-wing malarky, they are correct.