Palin's Christian Expenses

Published on
by
the Toronto Star/Canada

Palin's Christian Expenses

Record shows blurred lines in her support for religious causes at taxpayers' expense

by
Garance Burke

Republican vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin plays to her audience during a campaign stop in Johnstown, Pa., Oct. 11, 2008. (KEITH SRAKOCIC/AP)

WASILLA, Alaska-The
camera closes in on Sarah Palin speaking to young missionaries, vowing
from the pulpit to do her part to implement God's will from the
governor's office.

What she didn't tell worshippers gathered at
the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown was that her
appearance that day came courtesy of Alaskan taxpayers, who picked up
the $639.50 (all figures U.S.) tab for her airplane tickets and per
diem fees.

An Associated Press review of the Republican
vice-presidential candidate's record as mayor and governor reveals her
use of elected office to promote religious causes, sometimes at
taxpayer expense and in ways that blur the line between church and
state.

Since she took office in late 2006, the governor and her
family have spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer funds to attend at
least 10 religious events and meetings with Christian pastors.

Palin was baptized Roman Catholic as an infant, was baptized again in a
Pentecostal Assemblies of God church as a teenager and has worshipped
at a nondenominational Bible church since 2002.

She opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and supports classroom discussions about creationism.

Since she was named as John McCain's running mate, Palin's deep faith
and support for traditional moral values have rallied conservative
voters who initially appeared reluctant to back his campaign.

On
a weekend trip from the capital in June, a minister from the Wasilla
Assembly of God blessed Palin and Lieut.-Governor Sean Parnell before a
crowd gathered for the "One Lord Sunday" event at the town's hockey
rink.

Later in the day, Palin addressed the budding missionaries at her former church.

"As I'm doing my job, let's strike this deal. Your job is going be to
be out there, reaching the people - hurting people - throughout
Alaska," she told students graduating from the church's Masters
Commission program. "We can work together to make sure God's will be
done here."

A spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, Maria
Comella, said the state paid for Palin's travel and meals on that trip,
and for other meetings with Christian groups, because she and her
family were invited in their official capacity as Alaska's first
family. Parnell did not charge the state a per diem or ask to be
reimbursed for travel expenses that day.

"I understand the per
diem policy is, I can claim it if I am away from my residence for 12
hours or more. And Anchorage is where my residence is and I'm based
from. And this trip took about four hours of driving time and time at
the event, so I did not claim per diem for this one," Parnell told
Associated Press.

Palin and her family billed the state $3,022
for the cost of attending Christian gatherings exclusively, including
visits to the Assembly of God here and to the congregation they attend
in Juneau, according to expense reports reviewed by AP.

Experts
say those trips fall into an ethically grey area, since Democrats and
Republicans alike often visit religious venues for personal and
official reasons.

J. Brent Walker, who runs a Washington,
D.C.-based group that advocates for church-state separation, said based
on a reporter's account, Palin's June excursion raised questions.

"Politicians are entitled to freely exercise their religion while in
office, but ethically if not legally that part of her trip ought to not
be charged to taxpayers," said Walker, executive director of the
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. "It's still
fundamentally a religious and spiritual experience she is having."

The Palins billed the state an additional $10,094 in expenses for other
multi-day trips that included worship services or religiously themed
events, but also involved substantial state business, including the
governor's inaugural ball and an oil and gas conference in New Orleans.

Palin also submitted $998 in expenses for a June trip to Anchorage that
included a bill signing at Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue, the only
non-Christian house of worship she has visited since taking office,
according to the McCain campaign.

In response to an AP request,
Comella provided a list showing that since January 2007 the governor
had attended 25 "faith-based events," including funerals and community
meetings held at churches. Many did not appear on the governor's
schedule or her travel records.

Palin has said publicly her personal opinions don't "bleed on over into policies."

Still, after AP reported the governor had accepted tainted donations
during her 2006 campaign, she announced she would donate the $2,100 to
three charities, including an Anchorage non-profit aimed at "sharing
God's love" to dissuade young women from having abortions.

An AP review of her time as mayor, from late 1996 to 2002, also reveals a commingling of church and state.

Records of her mayoral correspondence show that Palin worked arduously
to organize a day of prayer at city hall. She said that with local
ministers' help, Wasilla - a city of 7,000 an hour's drive north of
Anchorage - could become "a light, or a refuge for others in Alaska and
America."

"What a blessing that the Lord has already put into
place the Christian leaders, even though I know it's all through the
grace of God," she wrote in March 2000 to her former pastor. She
thanked him for the loan of a video featuring a Kenyan preacher who
later would pray for her protection from witchcraft as she sought
higher office.

In that same period, she also joined a
grassroots, faith-based movement to stop the local hospital from
performing abortions, a fight that ultimately lost before the Alaska
Supreme Court.

 

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