While much attention has been focused on questions surrounding the Ground Zero mosque and the appropriateness of the State Department funding Ground Zero mosque imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s trip to the Middle East, little attention has been given to the fact that U.S. taxpayer money is funding mosque development around the world.
Just a cursory search of the term “mosque” on the State Department’s list of “projects” reveals 26 examples of federal funds going to fund construction, renovation, and rehabilitation of various mosques abroad. The benefiting countries include Bulgaria, Pakistan, Mali, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Egypt, Tunisia, the Maldives, Yemen, Turkmenistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Serbia and Montenegro.
The U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) — which is putting millions toward “heritage preservation” projects in the developing world — financed mosque-related projects in all the aforementioned countries.
In Montenegro, for example, the State Department has funded an effort to restore and conserve the Shadrvan (Fountain) of the Old Mosque in Pljevlja. According to the State Department’s website, without needed repairs there would not be a sufficient place for ritual washing before prayer.
“To support the restoration of a fountain at a 16th-century mosque concurrent with the restoration of the mosque itself. Used for ritual ablutions before prayer, the fountain has deteriorated over time and needs a new wooden octagonal roof, pipes, water-taps, and pavement,” the description of the project reads.
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.
The DOJ wrote: “That advice is provided in the following paragraph that appears in every AFCP request for grant proposals… ‘The establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution permits the government to include religious objects and sites within an aid program under certain conditions. For example, an item with a religious connection (including a place of worship) may be the subject of a cultural preservation grant if the item derives its primary significance and is nominated solely on the basis of architectural, artistic, historical or other cultural (not religious) criteria.’”
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also spent millions reconstructing and financing multiple mosques in Cairo and Cyprus, as well as providing computers for imams in Tajikistan and Mali.
Interestingly, however, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, “USAID funds may not be used for the acquisition, construction, or rehabilitation of structures to the extent that those structures are used for inherently religious activities.”