Letter from the Editor 

In this space last week, I wrote about the controversy regarding the proposed mosque near ground zero. As one might expect, the column drew lots of comments on the Flyer's website. One of our regulars 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, links were posted to articles in right-wing media — Reverend Moon's Washington Times, for example — that decried the fact that the U.S. is spending taxpayer dollars to "build" mosques around the world.

I suspected there was more to the story, so I did some research and learned that there is a State Department 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, Dailycaller.com:

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 ... 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 to Indiana Republican senator 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.

One can argue that this is an unwise use of our tax dollars, and, frankly, I tend to agree. But the bottom line is that the Cultural Preservation program was created by the Bush administration, vetted by a Republican Congress, and approved by John Ashcroft's Justice Department.

Of course, now that the Democrats are in power, this has become yet another false cause celebre for right-wing media to use to paint Obama as a 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 bother to do. And sadly, for a large number of those who are predisposed to buy into this right-wing malarkey, they are correct.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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