Nation & World

Palin used state funds for trip to speak at her former church

ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sarah Palin used state funds in June when she traveled from Juneau to Wasilla to speak to graduating evangelical students and urge them to fan out through Alaska "to make sure God’s will be done here."

State records show that Palin submitted a travel authorization for a quick round-trip visit to attend the June 8 graduation of the Master's Commission program at the Wasilla Assembly of God, the church where she was baptized at age 12. The only other item on the agenda for that trip was a "One Lord Sunday" service involving a network of Mat-Su Christian churches earlier that morning at the Wasilla sports complex.

The records show Palin flew from Juneau to Anchorage on Saturday, June 7. She returned to Juneau that Monday afternoon. The plane tickets cost the state $519.50, and she claimed an additional $120 for meals and other expenses.

Palin couldn't be reached for comment Friday as she campaigned for vice president. Her spokeswoman at the McCain campaign said she wouldn't grant an interview.

But Palin's spokeswoman in the governor's office, Sharon Leighow, said the state paid for the trip because Palin was invited to the events as the governor, not as a private citizen.

"I know for a fact she gave remarks at the Wasilla Assembly of God as governor of Alaska to the graduates of this particular program," Leighow said.

In her eight-minute remarks, delivered without notes except when she read a brief scripture passage, she melded the issues of governance with a call to bringing Alaskans to God.

"What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys as you go out throughout Alaska — I can do my part in doing things like working really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline." Palin said. "Pray about that also. I think God's will has to be done, in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that. But I can do my job there, in developing our natural resources, and doing things like getting the roads paved, making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded.

"But really, all of that stuff doesn’t do any good if the people of Alaska's hearts isn't right with God. And that's going to be your job," she said. "As I'm doing my job, let's strike this deal. Your job is going to be: to be out there, reaching the people, (the) hurting people throughout Alaska, and we can work together to make sure God's will be done here."

Palin's talk was recorded by the church and posted on its Web site. It has since been removed, but the video has been copied to multiple sites on the Internet as Americans attempt to learn more about her since her surprise pick by John McCain as his running mate Aug. 29.

Palin herself no longer regularly attends the Wasilla Assembly of God. She now attends other nondenominational, evangelical churches in Wasilla and Juneau. Palin told the graduates her remarks were off the cuff because she wasn't sure she could attend.

"I didn't prepare anything thinking that no, our schedule wouldn't allow me to be here," Palin said. But Leighow said the graduation was one of two purposes for the trip.

According to a six-minute promotional video by the Wasilla Assembly of God, the master's commission program is a live-in, year-long educational program for young adults. The church's description shows there’s nothing secular about it.

"The Master's Commission program is something that's going to take a young person and lead them for the rest of their lives in passionate journey for Jesus," the video says. The instruction is "designed to take students in from around the nation and through that, we’re able to shape and mold disciples of the lord Jesus Christ."

The program isn't just inward looking — the graduates are expected take the message to people around the state.

"We seek him in the morning with worship, with live worship, with intimate worship, to know him face-to-face," the video says. "The first part in the morning is to know God, and then from that afternoon you go out and make him known."

In words similar to Palin's, the video stresses the program's ties to Alaska:

"God has a destiny for the state of Alaska, and we know that master's commission is one of the keys that God is going to use to unlock his glory for that state," a speaker says.

In an e-mail exchange on Friday, Palin's spokeswoman Leighow defended the use of state money by Palin to travel to Wasilla and participate in the event. Attending religious events is common for elected officials, she said. There was no violation of the constitutional separation of church and state in Palin's appearance and remarks, she said.

"Public officials travel and speak to a religious group as part of their official duties," Leighow said. "Virtually every day there is a state or federal public official who speaks to members of the faith community. The governor can speak to secular audiences as well as faith-based audiences, and Republicans and Democrats routinely do this."

Leighow compared Palin's urging on of the young evangelical students to her attending the 2007 installation of Rabbi Michael Oblath at Congregation Beth Sholom in Anchorage.

"What's the difference?" Leighow said.

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