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World: State Dept won't tell congressional Republicans where atheist grant money is going, GOP threatens subpoenas

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FIRST ON FOX: The State Department will not tell congressional Republicans which atheist organizations they are giving religious freedom grants to, Fox News Digital has learned.

Several House lawmakers and staff were on a Thursday conference call with Mariah Mercer of the State Department’s Office of International of Religious Freedom and asked the official which atheist organizations were receiving grants, GOP sources familiar with the call told Fox News Digital.

The sources said the State Department would not tell the GOP lawmakers and staff on the call which organizations or individuals the grants are going to, citing "security concerns."

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The sources said the State Department would not tell the GOP lawmakers and staff on the call which organizations or individuals the grants are going to, citing © Ezra Acayan/Getty Images The sources said the State Department would not tell the GOP lawmakers and staff on the call which organizations or individuals the grants are going to, citing "security concerns." Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

The sources said that the grants are favoring atheists over non-atheists and that the grants are primarily going to individuals and organizations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia — all heavily Muslim regions.

The GOP sources said the State Department has been stonewalling them on the issue and that, over the course of the past six months, their letters to the department on the matter have received late responses.

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One of the sources said the situation raised questions, such as whether they are funding secular religious groups, such as Christian and Buddhist organizations, to the extent that they are funding atheist groups in the region.

The sources said they asked for a list of countries of where the money is being sent and they were told by the State Department there are serious difficulties getting the list and that they’re "working on it" and that gathering the list of taxpayer funded entities is a challenge.

They also said the State Department officials cited security concerns when asked about the grants themselves and that the department officials refused to say how they defined success in the program.

One of the sources said the situation raised questions, such as whether they are funding secular religious groups, such as Christian and Buddhist organizations, to the extent that they are funding atheist groups in the region. Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP © Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP One of the sources said the situation raised questions, such as whether they are funding secular religious groups, such as Christian and Buddhist organizations, to the extent that they are funding atheist groups in the region. Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP

The sources said that U.S. government support of atheists abroad is protected under the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, but the law says nothing about the government supporting advocates for atheism.

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The department told the lawmakers and staff that the grants are to protect the religious freedoms of atheists in other countries but, after six months, they still haven’t said who is receiving the money.

Republican lawmakers and staff on the call also said they were interested in using the House’s oversight power when in the majority next year to subpoena the State Department for answers on the issue.

The call came after two letters were sent from the House GOP to the State Department on the matter over the course of six months.

Republican Study Committee (RSC) chairman Jim Banks of Indiana, who organized the call, told Fox News Digital that after "6 months and multiple letters the Biden State Department is still hiding basic information about their funding of atheism abroad."

"They know that the details would outrage American taxpayers and they’re worried they’d also expose the program as unconstitutional," Banks said. "Congress gave them this money but apparently we’re not allowed to know which countries are getting the money—it’s insane."

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"In just a few short weeks Republicans will retake the majority and we absolutely should use the compulsory process to force the Biden State Department to release this information," he added.

Banks led a letter in June with 14 of his GOP colleagues to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s (DRL) grant program promoting atheism and "humanism."

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Biden regarding the department's grant program promoting atheism and © (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images) Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Biden regarding the department's grant program promoting atheism and "humanism." (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

"The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) was officially titled ‘DRL FY20 IRF Promoting and Defending Religious Freedom Inclusive of Atheist, Humanist, Non-Practicing and Non-Affiliated Individuals,’" Banks and the Republicans wrote.

"It announced a ‘competitive’ process that would award grants of up to $500,000 to organizations committed to the practice and spread of atheism and humanism, namely in South/Central Asia and in the Middle East/North Africa," they continued.

The Republicans pointed out that atheism and "humanism" are both "official belief systems" protected under the First Amendment’s right to religious freedom and said they would "like to know what other United States government programs supported with appropriated funds are being used either to encourage, inculcate, or to disparage any official belief system – atheist, humanist, Christian, Muslim, or otherwise."

Banks and his colleagues wrote that it "is one thing for the Department to be tolerant and respectful of a wide range of belief systems" and "to encourage governments to respect the religious freedom interests of their citizens."

The State Department told Fox News Digital that the agency doesn't comment on communications with Congress.

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