FFRF objects to Delaware county’s repeated religious grants

 The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to a Delaware county’s repeated grants to religious groups for religious purposes.

FFRF wrote the Sussex County Council on Feb. 9 regarding a $10,000 grant to Delmarva Teen Challenge, a religious ministry that purports to help drug addicts by converting them to Christianity. The money paid for a fundraiser for the religious group. The county responded that it would consider FFRF’s input for similar grant requests in the future. That’s why FFRF is dismayed that the council has continued to fund religious ministries with taxpayer money.

On June 21, the council voted unanimously to award $2,500 from Councilman Samuel Wilson’s discretionary grant account to Grace-N-Mercy Ministries, a Christian church in Greenwood, “for youth camp expenses.” In its grant application, the ministry stated that the grant would be utilized for expanding its summer youth camp, which “combines the social recreation and team building activities of a traditional summer camp with the faith-based principles of a vacation bible school.”

The Vacation Bible School is an overtly religious curriculum aimed at indoctrinating young children in Christianity. Its website states that “after every Bible story, kids will hear how that story ties into God’s bigger story—his plan of salvation! Each day kids will learn about Christ’s sacrifice for them and be challenged to respond to God’s love in real and meaningful ways.” The county apparently took no steps to ensure that the $2,500 would be used for entirely secular purposes. Although the Grace-N-Mercy Ministries’ grant application plainly stated the religious nature of the camp, the audio recording of the council meeting demonstrates that councilmembers voted on the grant without even discussing the possibility that the funds will be inappropriately used to promote religion.

On June 28, the council decided to give $2,000 to yet another summer bible camp, Nanticoke Young Life. The group’s website makes clear that its primary goal is to convert kids to Christianity. The County Council again awarded the money without discussing whether it was proper to force Sussex County taxpayers to fund a sectarian religious event.

“The Supreme Court has consistently held that direct grants to religious institutions require appropriate safeguards against the money ever being used for religious purposes,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes in a letter to Sussex County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr. “The county violates both the Delaware and U.S. Constitutions when it uses public money to maintain a ministry or to fund religious activities.” 

FFRF says that this pattern of unconstitutional grants must stop and that Sussex County councilmembers may not use discretionary funds to promote their personal religion or religion in general. It requests that the county respond in writing with steps it is taking to stop its regular practice of allowing councilmembers to fund religion with taxpayer money.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit that educates on nontheism and safeguards the constitutional separation between state and church, with nearly 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including in Delaware.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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