WASHINGTON -- Upset that Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, has been invited to sit down with the NAACP in Baltimore this weekend?
I don't see why. Your tax dollars go to the Nation of Islam every day.
That's right. According to more than two dozen members of Congress, your tax dollars fund a hate group.
Affiliates of the Nation of Islam get millions of tax dollars each year to provide security at public housing in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
"When I first learned about it, I couldn't believe it," U.S. Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., told me Friday. "I was denouncing the bigotry of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, when I found out that the government was giving millions to them."
King says that, because the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has "stonewalled" his requests for information, he cannot determine exactly how much these firms get. But he estimates that it is $20 million to $30 million per year.
So King has introduced the Hate Group Public Funding Exclusion Act into Congress, making it possible for HUD to deny funds to "organizations controlled by individuals who promote prejudice or bias based on race, religion or ethnicity."
King says that HUD claims it cannot deny funds to Nation of Islam affiliates if they come in with the lowest bid.
But last month in Baltimore, one such group came in with the highest bid and still got the contract.
In June, 1993, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which expends federal funds and is administered by the city under broad HUD guidelines, awarded a $2.9 million no-bid contract to N.O.I. Security Inc., a private firm affiliated with the Nation of Islam.
Then, under orders from HUD, the city opened the contract to competitive bidding. And last month, even though N.O.I. was the highest of four bidders, it still got the contract.
"Low-bid was not the prime criteria," said Daniel P. Henson III, executive director of the Baltimore housing authority. "I want safety and respect for public housing residents."
But if Baltimore had a public housing unit with a large number of whites (which it used to have before the courts ordered that public housing be integrated) and an affiliate of the Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi Party wanted to provide "safety and respect" to the residents, would the city grant it a security contract?
"No," Mayor Kurt Schmoke said flatly in a phone interview on Friday. "We made sure that N.O.I. is a separate corporation from the Nation of Islam. We also made sure that they do not proselytize and do not preach the message of Louis Farrakhan."
Which, King says, is typically "politically correct" thinking.
"The government says of the Nation of Islam, 'We condemn what they say, but we will still find a way to get money to them,' " King said.
But Schmoke defended N.O.I. by saying it had a good track record and that "nothing else had worked."
And, in fact, King and other members of Congress recognize that such groups might make public housing safer. But they also say that is not the point.
King, U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., and 23 other members of Congress, recently wrote a letter to HUD Secretary Henry
Cisneros saying: "We hope that HUD, under your leadership, will not endorse the belief that because an organization has undertaken certain good works, its reprehensible ideology can and should be tolerated."
Schmoke admits that Baltimore is walking a legal "tightrope" on this issue.
"But we are walking that tightrope mainly because of what it [N.O.I.] has accomplished," Schmoke said. "It not only has provided security, but it has inspired a lot of young men to improve their lives."
But what if Schmoke found out that N.O.I. funneled money directly to or recruited for the Nation of Islam?
"We'd have to ask them to come in and clarify the situation," Schmoke said.
On Friday, Julian Bond, the civil rights activist, wrote in The Sun that the NAACP's recent invitation to Louis Farrakhan "makes it a partner in his hateful views of whites, Jews and homosexuals."
But when millions of tax dollars go to Farrakhan's affiliates, every American taxpayer becomes not just a partner to hate, but a bankroller of it.