The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter yesterday to the Harrison County Commission in West Virginia protesting its vote to appropriate $1,000 in county funds to Immaculate Conception Men’s Group, a Roman Catholic church group.
The grant is meant to help fund a concert featuring John Angotti, a self-described Christian “music missionary” who provides “inspirational music and faith witness to all ages.” The concert is slated to take place at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksburg, W.Va., on Dec. 21.
Connect-Clarksburg reported Nov. 20 that Angotti “agreed to reduce his usual appearance fee to $3,000,” and that the men’s group had raised about $1,500 toward the cost, so the Harrison County Commission “kicked in $1,000 to help a local church group stage a holiday concert.”
“The commission’s sponsorship of the church’s concert featuring this proselytizing artist raises serious constitutional concerns,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Katherine Paige.
Funding the concert violates the principle that the government must be neutral toward religion, “especially when the program is explicitly Christian and clearly meant to influence people to convert to Christianity,” continued Paige.
To comply with both the federal and West Virginia Constitutions, the commission must rescind the donation and recover it from the church, the letter concluded.
“A direct government grant for devotional purposes violates the West Virginia Constitution, turns believers into insiders and forces nonbelievers and non-Christians to subsidize religious speech,” added FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The commission must rescind this inappropriate grant immediately. It’s not the government’s business to subsidize evangelical musicians — or the church groups that invite a musician they can’t afford.”
FFRF also sent an open records request asking for documents relating to the donation.
FFRF is a Madison-based state/church watchdog with more than 21,500 members nationwide.