Christian politician pleads guilty to federal bribery charge in $600K Bible college bribery scheme.
A corruption scandal involving Republicans and a conservative Christian college has served to make the point of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). The FFRF is a nonprofit educational charity whose mission is to keep religion and government separate. In early 2016, the FFRF protested that grants to overtly religious institutions like Ecclesia College were violating the Arkansas and U.S. constitutions.
It has now been revealed the State Rep. Micah Neal worked with a senator to process a grant of $60,000 of taxpayer money to two nonprofits in exchange for kickbacks. This started from the beginning of 2013. Hemant Mehta remarks on his blog, The Friendly Atheist, “One of those groups was Ecclesia College in the northwest part of the state. The small bible school received a $ 200,000 gift from Neal and the other politician; in return, Neal got a kickback of $18,000. In total, Neal received $38,000 from the $60,0000 grant.”
Neal signed a plea agreement filed in court on January 4, 2017. He admits guilt and could face up to 20 years in prison in addition to a $250,000 fine. The plea agreement states:
“Neal agrees and stipulates that he conspired with Senator A and others in the Western District of Arkansas and elsewhere to deprive the citizens of the State of Arkansas of his honest services as an Arkansas state legislator by taking official actions and using his official position to appropriate and direct funds to Entity A and Entity B in exchange for kickback payments.”
Dr. Oren Paris III, the president of Ecclesia College posted on Facebook saying, “After reading the statements contained in Mr. Neal’s plea agreement, I can unequivocally state that neither I nor Ecclesia College have been party to illegal activity. We have never been a party to any agreements to funnel money to any state legislator.” He also remarked, “Any rumors, innuendo or any future news reports that say otherwise are simply untruthful.”
FFRF co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented after the scandal broke, “The malfeasance around the grants to Ecclesia College reveals that money of this sort can be dubious on multiple levels. This misappropriation of public funds would not have happened if the government had strictly applied the constitutionally mandated separation of state and church.”
In February 2016, the FFRF wrote to the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, stating, “The Arkansas Constitution clearly prohibits funding religious ministries and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment strictly prohibits the government from advancing religion.”
— Dorian (@DorianStaten) January 6, 2017