Ga. city pulls out of Gospel Fest following FFRF complaint

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After receiving a complaint letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the city of Jonesboro, Ga., ended its unconstitutional involvement in an Aug. 29 “Gospel Fest” concert. While claiming that it disagreed with FFRF’s position, the city officially “relinquished sponsorship of the concert.”

The event was advertised with Christian imagery on the city’s official Facebook page. The concert was described as a “faith infused gospel music mega event,” and citizens were encouraged to “enjoy some all night Saturday revelry in anticipation of a feverous day of Sunday worship and prayer.”

“The city’s hosting, sponsoring, and promoting of this patently sectarian religious event violates both the Georgia and United States constitutions,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

Seidel pointed out that the Georgia constitution provides that no money shall be given “directly or indirectly” in aid of a church or any sectarian institution. “As such, Jonesboro is prohibited from spending public funds on events that promote a particular sectarian religious denomination, such as a Christian gospel concert.”

FFRF’s letter also cited a Georgia federal case in which the court ruled that a city and mayor had to stop organizing and promoting a prayer breakfast. The court restricted the use of city funds, employees, and resources in facilitating the event so that the city did not further unconstitutionally endorse religion.

“Sponsoring a Christian Gospel Fest is unconstitutional for the same reasons,” said Seidel.

In reply, Steven M. Fincher, attorney for the city, informed FFRF that the city had turned control of the concert over to two local ministers’ groups, and noted that the city did not own the property or the stage where the concert was to be held. The city also removed all advertisements for the festival and informed city residents by email of the new event hosts.

“Although it’s unfortunate that the town of Jonesboro so inappropriately promoted this exclusionary sectarian event, we’re delighted officials did do the right thing after hearing of the constitutional concerns,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Jonesboro, in central Georgia, has about 4,600 citizens.

FFRF is a state/church watchdog with more than 23,000 members nationwide, including over 400 members and a chapter in Georgia.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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