The Freedom From Religion Foundation helped prevent a proposed diversion of money from a government-owned liquor store in North Carolina to an evangelical organization.
The town of Troutman was considering distributing a portion of the profits from an Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission-managed liquor shop to Help Ministries. The ministry is a conglomeration of Baptist churches that is clearly dedicated to evangelism. Its name is an acronym for "Help Evangelize Lost People," and its website states that the ministry's "ultimate goal is to carry out the scriptural teaching of the Great Commission in preaching the gospel to every creature."
FFRF first made an open record request last year to ascertain where the funds from the store were headed, then sent a follow-up letter in July.
"The Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment] strictly prohibits the government from advancing religion," Ryan Jayne, FFRF's Elaine and Eric Stone Legal Fellow, wrote to Troutman Town Attorney Gary Thomas. "This means that the government may not 'aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines,' as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. Aiding a religious sect in the dissemination of their doctrines is exactly what the town of Troutman would do by giving public funds to an evangelical Baptist ministry."
FFRF reminded Thomas of Supreme Court decisions that addressed the specific situation facing the town and warned him of the danger of misuse of official money.
"The Supreme Court has struck down grants to religious institutions when there is a possibility that the funds will be used to advance religion," Jayne added. "Help Ministries is very likely to promote religion in the course of all its public activities. As such, these activities may not be subsidized with taxpayer funds."
Troutman officials seem to have paid heed to FFRF.
The Town Council has determined that the profits "will go to the Troutman Park, the Troutman Library and four public schools in the town," Thomas recently replied.
FFRF is happy that constitutional logic finally prevailed.
"The town of Troutman contains many citizens who are not Baptists," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "James Madison, Father of our Constitution, warned even 'threepence' of tax dollars should not be diverted in support of a religion. We're pleased this proposal was withdrawn."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 24,000 nonreligious members across the country, including almost 600 in North Carolina, and a chapter in the state, the Triangle Freethought Society.