Louisiana Governor Takes State Helicopter On Visits To Church Services

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer funds traveling to churches and other destinations by state police helicopter, a newspaper has reported.

Jindal, a staunch ally of the Religious Right, used the helicopter a dozen times to attend services at churches in north Louisiana, reported the Baton Rouge Advocate. The newspaper reported that the total cost for all of Jindal’s helicopter trips from January 2007 through September 2008 was $180,000.

Jindal, a Roman Catholic, used the helicopter to attend services at some Baptist churches. He often met with local officials afterward, leading to speculation that the trips are political in nature. Jindal denies this, even though he was known for campaigning in churches during his last run for governor.

“Even before I was a candidate for office, I’ve enjoyed worshipping in other churches,” Jindal told the newspaper. He also said he only uses the helicopter for in-state events, adding, “If that’s the cost of getting across the state and talking to folks, I think it’s worth that investment.”

In March, Jindal traveled to Winnfield for services at the First Baptist Church. The Rev. Jerold McBride, who was the church’s interim pastor at the time, said Jindal’s visit was non-political and was not announced to the congregation ahead of time. McBride said Jindal addressed the congregation about spiritual matters.

The Louisiana State Police maintain two helicopters for Jindal’s use. It costs $1,200 an hour to fly them. The helicopters, which cost $6.3 million apiece, were purchased under Jindal’s predecessor, Kathleen Blanco.

Jindal has become something of a rising star among the Republican right. He was on John McCain’s short list of vice presidential running mates and is close to the Louisiana Family Forum, a statewide Religious Right organization. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Jindal is “seen as practically one of the family” at the Forum’s offices.

Since Jindal became governor, the state has passed a law that opens the door for creationist concepts to be taught in public schools and dropped anti-discrimination rules that barred publicly funded faith-based groups from discriminating in hiring against gays and others who don’t meet their doctrinal tests.

Jindal is also appointing Religious Right allies to state commissions. In October, he appointed Alliance Defense Fund attorney Mike Johnson, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Louisiana Family Forum Executive Director Gene Mills and an array of other religious conservatives to the Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family.