Would it be constitutional for the US to promote a religion abroad?

Seems to me that it would at least arguably be a good idea for the US and other western countries to try to fund moderate Islam in other countries, much in the same way that Saudia Arabia has funded the more evil kinds of Islam in other countries and caused so much bother.

Would that be a violation of the US constitution regarding establishment of religion and so on? Also, how about this as a decent idea to combat the Saudis?

It’s a bad idea, and yes, I suspect that using any kind of taxpayer funding that way would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Because the US is the US and it would lead to knee jerk reactions defeating the object, or some other reason?

Cause there’s nothing in this plan that says it has to be done openly. CIA could happily fund it for example.

Because I see almost nothing to be gained from this kind of meddling in the first place, and because it would make the whole “war on terror” concept that much more overtly religious. It would be a gift to anyone who says the U.S. is trying to destroy Islam.

I agree that it could be done, and probably even has been done, covertly by the CIA. I think it’s a bad idea, and I think that if it ever became public knowledge (even if the information made public was wrong) it would mean the death of any cleric tied to US payments.

USAID has been doing precisely this in several countries for years, including Central Asia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

I don’t think the constitutionality has been challenged, and I don’t think the Supreme Court has ever stated whether the Establishment Clause applies overseas. This commentator notes that one federal appeals court ruled that the Estab. Clause applied to a USAID program providing aid to Catholic and Jewish schools abroad (see p.199 of that link), but less restrictively than it would apply domestically. Foreign policy considerations conceivably could constitute a compelling reason to overcome Estab. Clause restrictions, since there is arguably some tension between the Estab. Clause’s limitations on Congress and the President’s constitutional foreign-policy powers. Also, the Supreme Court’s Estab. clause jurisprudence is notoriously incoherent.

We do it routinely. There are several US agencies (USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives comes to mind) that pretty much focus on funding US-friendly quasi-political grassroots organizations, such as youth groups, women’s groups, etc. The theory is identify and fund future change-makers that have the potential to shift the direction the nation is moving. In other words, to create small, critical changes that could have large scale events.

There are tons of “democracy and governance” initiatives implemented by overt and covert organizations.

It’s important to understand that radical Islam is a political movement, not a religious one. We can do whatever we can get away with when it comes to countering political movements.

What if we promoted atheism? Here me out:

The danger of promoting religion is that you’d set one religion against the other. Promote Christians in Saudi Arabia pisses off the Muslims and gets the Christians killed, promote Islam in Afghanistan and locals will twist it into something that shoots 14 year old girls in the head for speaking against the Taliban. The existence of one religion, throughout history, has always been to propagate itself through the destruction of its competitors, its a never ending cycle. Plus you’d run up against US laws

But atheism isn’t a religion (despite the best obfuscation and lies by religious people). You can promote atheism without running afoul of laws. Plus, atheism innately rejects the conflict that pits religion against religion. Most of us would be happy if religion left us alone, we don’t have to go out to convert people or save them or uphold some stupid archaic tradition.

Of course this won’t be easy, but the question isn’t how effective it would be (compared to bombing them, I’d say its a fair bit more effective), but whether it can be done. I think it would take a long time and we’d have to massively change the culture as well, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work, it would just be slower.

I think changing fundamentalists from one religion to another simply dresses up one problem with another. There are Christians in places like Africa who are just as brutal as the Muslims we see and hear on the news. Promoting a “better” religion won’t solve that. But promoting no religion, no spiritual ties, no care or worry about the afterlife, and no desire to uphold a tradition of hatred can’t be anything but an improvement

Nobody is talking about conversion.

A quick glance at history reveals people are perfectly capable of being brutal and genocidal even without the benefit of religion.

Again, war, terrorism, systematic oppression, etc. are political. Religion may be the excuse, but ultimately these are political and there is nothing inherent in any religion that causes violence. Every single religion, from Zen Buddhism to Catholicism, has been interpreted to promote violence or peace as it suits political needs.

But the religious excuse has a couple bonuses built right in:

  1. The supposed “Leader” is intangible and cannot be directly questioned, advised or negotiated with.
  2. The supposed “Leader” automatically assumed to be correct without question, which means the opposition doesn’t have to be listened to because it is automatically wrong.

Mao and Stalin and Kim Jong Il managed both of these pretty well. Religious leaders who never develop much political power, on the other hand, can talk all they want but will cause very little action.

I’m not religious and I’m no apologist, but Islam is not the problem. Humans can split and organize around anything. People use soccer teams as an excuse to band together and brutalize other people. If we want to have any chance of actually making positive changes, we need to have a realistic understanding of what the problem is.

Gods are unreachable by word or knife.

Since gods are usually silent, the ones you need to reach are their human spokesmen.

It wouldnt eliminate violence, but it would make it harder. Its much easier to say “My god supports this” than “I want this for the benefit of my tribal or ethnic group”. Anything that can make it harder to wage war and terror is a good thing

It won’t, though. Religion can be a convenient excuse to wage war and terror, but there are plenty of other reasons ready to step up the plate and they work just as well. The Hutus and Tutsis speak the same language, intermarried freely, live in the same areas and otherwise showed no real sign of being different ethnic groups, and they still somehow managed to turn that rather dubious ethnic division into an excuse for genocide.

In the particular care of radical Islam, the radicalization came out of politics, not theology.

The text of the First Amendment, with the Establishment clause bolded:

It doesn’t limit the areas over which Congress may make no such laws to places where Congress has the power to make laws at all. So, Ann Coulter’s recommendations notwithstanding, in 2004, Congress could not, it would appear, have directed the Transitional Authority in Baghdad to declare that the new official religion of Iraq would be Lutheranism, Missouri Synod.

A little less certain is whether Congress can legally allocate funding to the CIA to encourage apostasy among Iraqi Muslims.

On the other hand, Article II awards plenary foreign policy authority to the Executive. Hence the tension cited in the court decision above, and the court’s willingness to consider that national-security considerations can trump the Estab. clause overseas.

This suggestion, along with Yogsothoth’s above, would likely implicate the Free Exercise clause, not the Estab. clause. The analysis may well be similar.

However, the Constitution also grants Congress the right to pass all legislation that it deems “necessary” and “proper”. Now, I don’t think that would rescue Congress if it decided that it was necessary and proper for the US to force everyone in the country to become Hasidic Jews.

Right, and anyhow the legions of Middle Eastern conspiracy theorists will happily assume that any liberal/democratic or feminist or homophilic tendency expressed in those societies are secretly CIA-funded plots to undermine their societies the better to scheme at world domination. :smack: It’s a mental barbed-wire fence thrown up around there to keep out any change. Change is scary, change is threatening.