DeMint Lends Voice to Bogus Controversy Over Stimulus Bill

Just yesterday I wrote about the bogus assertion from the American Center for Law and Justice that “student groups would be barred from using facilities for worship or even Bible study if the school accepts the federal stimulus funds” because of a provision in the economic stimulus legislation. 

As I explained, what the legislation actually says is that funding from the legislation can be used by universities to upgrade or repair facilities that are used for student housing or instruction but can’t be used for facilities that are primarily used for college sports or religion or to build new facilities. In short, the legislation stipulates that if a facility’s use is primarily religious, then stimulus funds can’t be used to modernize, renovate, or repair it – nowhere does it state anything that could be interpreted as barring students from using university facilities to host things like a Bible study.

Despite the fact that the ACLJ is dead wrong about this provision, the organization’s call to get it stripped from the bill is already garnering support in the Senate:

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint tells The Brody File that a newly discovered controversial provision in President Obama’s stimulus plan is, “an attack on people of faith” … The Brody File contacted the Senator and he gave us the following response:

“Democrats are looking for every opportunity to purge faith and prayer from the public square. This will empower the ACLU with ambiguous laws that create liability for schools, universities, and student organizations. This is an attack on people of faith and I don’t think Americans will stand for it.” – Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina)

DeMint’s spokesman Wesley Denton says, “This is an ACLU stimulus, because any school that gets funds to upgrade a student center or building where Bible studies or religious meetings may be held will be slapped with a lawsuit. This bill declares a war on prayer at college campuses in this country. Students have [a] constitutional right to use public facilities regardless of their religious views, and President Obama needs to step in to ask Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi to stop this attack on students of faith.”

This is a case study in how the right wing operates: they exploit a law’s convoluted language in order to concoct a horror story based on blatant misrepresentations of what the law actually does. Then they send out a press release claiming Christian victimization and threatening a lawsuit. The story gets picked up by right-wing news sites and eventually garners support from Religious Right allies on Capitol Hill like Senator DeMint.