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May 30, 2005
Is Religious Education An Official Government Duty?

CQ reader BR brings an unusual document related to the House travel kerfuffle to my attention. It appears that Caitlin O'Neill, who works for Nancy Pelosi, forgot to file her disclosure form (PDF) for a trip she took to Havana, Cuba. O'Neill, who BR says is the granddaughter of former Speaker Tip O'Neill, identifies the purpose of her trip -- as an official duty of Congress -- as "religious education".

Has religious education become an official government duty? What would Pelosi's allies at the ACLU say about that?

That's not the end of the unusual aspects of this trip. Expenses totaled almost $1400 for the five-day trip to Havana, including $400 for meals. Of course, the American taxpayer didn't get stuck with this bill, which is the reason O'Neill and Pelosi had to file the disclosure. The entire cost of O'Neill's trip was borne by the Universal Life Church.

This is where the questions really start. From reading its website, the ULC doesn't require much in terms of religious education for its membership or its clergy. In fact, the church openly states on its website that it grants ordination on line, instantly, for free:

You can become a legally ordained minister, instantly, online, at this website. The Universal Life Church is totally non-denominational, interfaith and welcomes all religions. After you fill out the ordination form, you will receive a pop-up instant credential, which serves as your receipt of your ordination. Print it immediately.

As a ULC (Universal Life Church) minister, you can officiate one wedding ceremony or you can make weddings, funerals, baptisms, house blessings, etc. your business. You can even start your own ministry. The Universal Life Church is interfaith and non-denominational.

We have, online, free training for ministers, an online, one-year seminary program, where you can receive a diploma to enhance your knowledge and your credibility, and a monk program.

So O'Neill claims to have pursued religious education as a government duty, in Cuba, where we oppose the oppressive regime of Fidel Castro. She says the Universal Life Church paid her way, despite their granting of free ordinations to anyone who signs up on their website. None of the services or training on their website requires acolytes to travel to Cuba for certification.

So perhaps the House Minority Leader can explain why Caitlin O'Neill went to Cuba in the middle of last December for five days as a guest of a fake church that issues mail-order ordinations. The explanation had better improve on the "religious education" that O'Neill claims. Otherwise, Pelosi and her caucus would be well advised to back off on criticisms of faith-based initiatives coming from the Bush administration.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 30, 2005 4:54 PM

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