The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been forced to issue a substantial financial payout after Secretary Ben Carson was criticised by two atheist watchdogs for attending a weekly Bible study at the White House.
The groups, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), last week announced that they were awarded $17,800 in a HUD payout after being repeatedly denied Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about Carson's schedule and the Bible study in question.
In March, FFRF openly criticised the Bible study's host, Ralph Drollinger, calling him a "hate preacher" as a result of comments made in relation to homosexuality. Drollinger insisted he had been misrepresented in the media.
HUD spokesman Matt Schuck told Fox News: "We should be seeing much more media outrage over these activist groups who continuously abuse legal protections in place for the media, but we don’t."
According to the settlement, HUD agreed to pay FFRF $3,400 and CREW $14,400 in costs and legal fees related to both the case and the FOIA requests.
Alongside the payout, HUD also agreed to host two in-person mandatory fee waiver training sessions for its FOIA office and also update their fee waiver guidance. Patrick Elliott, FFRF senior counsel, said: "One of the major benefits is that the updated training and guidance will ensure that citizens and groups will have access to agency records."
Following media coverage of the FFRF complaints, the White House announced that the Bible studies were no longer being held there.