Group: County’s donation illegal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, sent a letter this week to the Covington County Commission denouncing the commission’s donation of $3,000 to the Covington Baptist Association.

Katherine Paige, FFRF legal fellow, authored the letter, in which she called the donation unconstitutional.

Earlier this month, on Oct. 8, commissioners agreed to donate the money to the Covington Baptist Association for a monthly men’s ministry program it is starting at the old Stanley school, which also once was the Stanley Community Center. A church now owns the property, and the association is making improvements on it for its use in the ministry.

Commissioners agreed to make the contribution at the request of Commissioner Harold Elmore.

The inaugural event was held Oct. 16, and featured the testimony of former wrestler Ted Dibiase. Approximately 200 people attended the event.

The FFRF’s Paige, detailing why the grant is unconstitutional.

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits any ‘sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activities,’ ” Paige wrote. “Funding a Baptist ministry violates this principle of neutrality, especially when the program is explicitly Christian and clearly meant to influence people to convert to Christianity.”

The FFRF asked the commission to rescind the grant and recover the $3,000 from the ministry.

“There couldn’t be a more flagrant violation of the Constitution than a direct cash donation to a Christian ministry for the purpose of promoting church-going,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. FFRF noted that the Alabama Constitution explicitly bars the use of taxes or any public funds for “maintaining any minister or ministry.” (Ala. Const. Art. § 3).

FFRF additionally sent an open records request seeking records on the donation, including any communications between the county and the Covington Baptist Association.

County attorney Tom Albritton said the county is complying with the open records request. The commission is not scheduled to meet again until November.

FFRF is based in Madison, Wis.