October 2005 Church & State | Editorial

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was widely criticized for its slow response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast.

But FEMA’s failures don’t end there. In the wake of the hurricane, FEMA persisted in promoting a scandal-wracked charity associated with TV preacher Pat Robertson. In doing so, the agency did a great disservice to the American people.

Americans are naturally generous and want to help those in need. The pictures of the devastation wrought by Katrina were gut-wrenching. Americans opened their hearts and their checkbooks. Hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into relief agencies.

Many newspapers reprinted a list of relief groups that FEMA produced. Robertson’s Operation Blessing was placed second on the list, right after the Red Cross. Operation Blessing also got prominent play on FEMA’s Web site.

The average person, on reading this list, would assume that Operation Blessing must be a credible charity along the lines of the Red Cross and many of the others listed.

That’s far from the truth. In fact, Operation Blessing has a checkered past. In October of 1997, two Operation Blessing pilots asserted that its planes were used primarily to transport equipment for a Robertson-owned diamond-mining operation in Zaire (now the Republic of the Congo) called African Development Corporation. One pilot told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot that of the 40 flights he undertook to Zaire, “only one or at most two” were humanitarian in nature. He said the rest were “mining-related.”

Virginia’s Office of Consumer Affairs was ready to prosecute Robertson for making deceptive claims but the investigation was dropped by the office of then-Attorney General Mark Earley, a Robert­son ally.

Questions still remain about Oper­ation Blessing. The group’s 2003 financial records show that the charity donated $885,362 to Robertson’s TV minis­try, Christian Broadcasting Net­work. Why is Operation Blessing money being plowed back into CBN? The financial statement merely says the funds were used for “international humanitarian activity.” Language that vague could mean almost anything. The money could have been used to spread Robertson’s religious political vision all over the globe.

Americans need to feel confident that the money they donate goes to help those displaced by the hurricane and doesn’t end up lining the pocket of a greedy television evangelist.

FEMA, through its misguided promotion of Operation Blessing, has dropped the ball once again.