The city of West Lafayette, Ind., cannot legally subsidize Faith Ministries' Faith West Project with $7 million in economic development revenue bonds, FFRF Co-President Dan Barker said in a May 21 letter of complaint to Mayor John Dennis and the City Council.
FFRF, with more than 18,000 members nationwide and 250 in Indiana, advocates for state-church separation. Multiple local complainants contacted FFRF about city Ordinance 11-12, which violates a clause in the Indiana Constitution that states "No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship."
Cost of the complex is pegged at $11.5 million. It would house a student ministry, fitness and counseling centers, a cafe and apartments. The Plan Commission unanimously OK'd the project in March. A public hearing before the City Council is May 24.
Faith Ministries refers to the project on its website as “a new student and biblical counseling center.” Barker noted that since the bonds the city would issue benefit the project as a whole, the city would in fact be supporting biblical counseling.
FFRF was contacted by one of its members, who's a local resident, who said he took part in "reparative homosexual therapy" at Faith Ministries’ Faith Baptist Church as a teen. The complainant said:
"My sessions at Faith Baptist Church were the most hurtful, damaging and humiliating experiences of my life. I was forced to divulge any and all sexual thoughts and keep them in a journal. I was also interrogated about my masturbation habits and the sexual fantasies that accompanied them. All of this was performed by an unlicensed therapist and observed by three therapists-in-training. It has taken years to overcome the shame and self-loathing these sessions caused, and I’m still not there yet."
Faith Ministries says online that it's “motivated by the belief that God's Word is sufficient, and that people who follow its life-changing message can bring glory to God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This belief pervades how we worship together and serve others, and is the foundation for our ministries.”
Dennis has stated that he believes the religious mission of Faith Ministries can be “carved out” from the parts of the Faith West Project that the city would subsidize. Barker called that a fiction. "Money is fungible, and the funding used for one portion of the project is simply used to offset the costs of other components."
Barker added, "Faith Ministries’ evangelical mission extends to every corner of its work; it is the reason they exist.
"Has the city determined if the Covenant Student Ministry Housing will require residents to agree to a statement of faith or religious code of conduct? It does not seem possible to ferret out nonreligious components to the Faith Ministries programming."
Barker warned against bias in favor of preferred religious groups. "Of course the council would likely not give $7 million in economic development revenue bonds to a mosque or to an atheist organization."
FFRF's concerns include Faith West potentially receiving a property tax exemption (which doesn't help improve the city's tax base) and claims it will only create 16 permanent jobs and two internships.
"All but just a few of those jobs are lower level jobs, such as custodians and customer service workers. The large amount of the bond by the city is grossly disproportional to the quality and quantity of jobs that would be produced," Barker said. "Will those jobs be open to all in the community? Faith Ministries is not an equal opportunity employer."
Barker urged the council to reject the ordinance that would subsidize an exclusionary and discriminatory religious ministry.