Group wants probe into faith-based earmarks

A group that supports the separation of church and state wants the Obama administration to investigate earmarks for religious groups.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) wrote Attorney General Eric Holder a letter saying that the

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“We ask that you carefully investigate these earmarks and that you impose any restrictions necessary to ensure that the earmarks satisfy all legal requirements," AUSCS counsel Alex Luchenitser wrote. "If such restrictions cannot feasibly be put in place for one or more of the earmarks, then, in order to comply with the law, please refrain from funding those earmarks."

The request comes amid a heated debate in Congress over earmark speeding. 

AUSCS's desired probe focuses on discretionary items given to 10 different groups, nine Christian and one Jewish, that total $2.8 million. The group says they could be unconstitutional.

“Taxpayers should never be forced to support religion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Congress should not approve earmark funding for projects that advance religion. Religious pork is bad for America’s constitutional health.” 

Some lawmakers object to the earmarks for budgetary reasons.

House Republicans have called for a full ban on so-called "pork barrel" spending until the end of the year. One House panel's Democratic members have advocated a ban on for-profit earmarks.

The Senate generally has been slower to act; both Democrats and Republicans in the upper chamber have criticized efforts to nix earmarks. Some Senate Republicans such as Jim DeMint (S.C.) have pushed for a House GOP-style ban.

Proponents of an earmark ban say that it is an important step to reining in spending in the face of large deficits but skeptics say that banning earmarks would only reduce a small percentage of the ballooning budget.