Late addition to Pierce County budget raising legal questions

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by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @jlangelerKING5

KING5.com

Posted on November 17, 2013 at 2:38 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 17 at 3:19 PM

TACOMA -- As the Pierce County Council prepares to approve its 2014 budget on Tuesday, a late addition to the expenses list is raising legal and ethical concerns.

Amendments installed last Tuesday by all councilors to fund at-risk youth programs include $7,000 to Child Evangelism Fellowship, described on its website as a "Bible-centered worldwide organization that is dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, decipled and established in a local church."

The money would go towards renting space at local fairs, according to the director of the Pierce County chapter Marlene Stoll.

"We just want to push God's love for us and how it can make a difference in our life," Stoll said Saturday night.

CEF received national recognition for starting clubs that take place in public schools immediately after class is dismissed. 

Stoll said she was called by Pierce County councilman Jim McCune about the $7,000 donation, and was taken by surprise.  It's the largest donation her chapter has ever received.

The question is over the legality of the contribution.  While governments often contribute to faith-based organizations for things like homeless shelters and food kitchens, the federal and state constitutions specifically prohibit taxpayers paying for "instruction of any religious establishment."

McCune said Friday night Child Evangelism Fellowship is non-denominational, and the money would not go towards religious items.

"Yes, (CEF) may come from a certain book (the Bible), but it's not a so-called religious foundation.  Completely separate," McCune explained.

Council attorney Susan Long explained Friday there was discussion about the legality of the donation, but a contract would have to be signed beforehand ensuring taxpayers dollars did not pay for an unconstutional event.

However, Robert Boston with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called CEF "a Christian fundamentalist organization," adding, "(it) should not receive public funding at all."

Stoll has no insight into the legality of a donation she said she never expected.  She merely wants to help her community's youth.

"We're not pushing a church, honestly," she said, "We're pushing Jesus, and his love for us."

The council approves the final budget on Tuesday.

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