If a city wants to give away taxpayer money for redevelopment projects, you would hope someone’s going through the applications very carefully before someone gets money they don’t deserve for an event that would be illegal.
In Sarasota, Florida, there was a request for a $1,000 grant from the “Englewood Community Redevelopment Area” (CRA) fund by a group called Ignite Englewood. Their goal is nothing more than spreading Christianity.
According to their application, the group wants the money for “an outdoor service for the community that will include music by a local praise band, two pastors who will be teaching and sharing a message from the Gospels, and the vision to bring a positive uplifting worship service to the public.” (Emphasis theirs.)
The most damning thing about the application? There’s a section where applications have to explain how their projects would promote the objectives of the CRA. In other words: How will this project contribute to redeveloping the community?
The response from the Christian group?
I don’t have a full understanding of the objectives of the CRA Plan. However, I’m sure this event will not conflict with that plan.
They’re not even trying.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation recently sent a letter to local officials wanting to know why this project would ever be considered.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits any ‘sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne has written to Sarasota County’s legal counsel. “Specifically, the government may not fund projects for religious worship. Unlike the rental of government property or private displays on public property, direct government grants do not involve free speech considerations, only Establishment Clause concerns.”
The Florida Constitution similarly prohibits government funding of religious activities, FFRF reminds the county. Not only are government entities prohibited from establishing religion, “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution,” as Article I, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution puts it. Providing rent-free use of a county park and $10,000 of county taxpayer funds for religious music, a sermon, and a worship service plainly violates this stricture.
(FFRF says $10,000, but as far as I can tell, the application requests $1,000. The problem is the same either way.)
FFRF says they’ve already received a response from the Sarasota County legal office saying the application was submitted but not yet approved. That’s good news and it suggests no wrongdoing on the part of the government… yet.
“A grant of this type would be a clear constitutional violation,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Sarasota officials should resoundingly deny what would amount to a religious freebie.”
The officials would be wise to just toss the application out before it ever becomes a problem. Let the Christians pay for their own damn worship service.
(Image via Shutterstock)