The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, sent a letter Oct. 27 to the Covington County Commission in Andalusia, Ala., denouncing the commission’s unconstitutional donation of $3,000 in county funds to the Covington Baptist Association.
The commission voted Oct. 8 to appropriate $3,000 in taxpayer funds to the Baptist group to start a monthly men’s ministry program. The Andalusia Star News described the program’s goal: “to get more men to church.”
Katherine Paige, FFRF legal fellow, sent a letter to the commission 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.’ ”
“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,” Paige wrote. FFRF is asking 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.
FFRF, based in Madison, Wis., is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) and has strong ties to Alabama. Its longest-lived chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association, meets at FFRF’s Freethought Hall near Talladega, where its monument to “Atheists in Foxholes” is on display.