Editor’s Note: The original version of this story stated that the Bible study sessions were no longer being held at the White House. The sessions, it turns out, were never held at the White House. The story has been updated to reflect the change.
Two watchdog groups that targeted Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson for taking part in weekly Bible study meetings at the White House announced they have reached a $17,800 settlement.
HUD reportedly agreed to pay Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) $3,400 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) $14,400 in costs and attorney fees related to the case and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests processed to obtain the documents, according to the settlement.
The groups, FFRF and CREW, announced the settlement last week, putting an end to a two-year dispute. The groups claimed they were repeatedly denied FOIA requests about Carson's schedule and the Bible study, which at one point were purportedly attended by several Cabinet members before work hours.
In March, the Wisconsin-based FFRF blasted Pastor Ralph Drollinger, who led the Bible study in question, as a "hate preacher," claiming he "blamed gays" in a blog post for the coronavirus pandemic, the Christian Post reports. But Drollinger said his words were misrepresented by the mainstream media after the headlines linked the pastor's blog post to coronavirus and homosexuality.
HUD spokesman, Matt Schuck, blasted the two groups for being "nothing more than activists with a political agenda."
"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," Schuck told Fox News.
After media reports of the FFRF complaint, including from LGBT groups, the White House responded saying the Bible study sessions had never been held at the White House. A spokesperson for Capitol Ministries told Fox News the Bible study has always been held at an undisclosed location for security reasons.
HUD has also agreed to provide two in-person mandatory fee waiver training sessions for its FOIA office along with updated fee waiver guidance.
“One of the major benefits is that the updated training and guidance will ensure that citizens and groups will have access to agency records,” Patrick Elliott, FFRF senior counsel, said in a statement.
Both groups now have the records they were seeking concerning the White House Bible study, as well as Carson's attendance at an event for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.