Taxpayer money taken away from religious group after public outrage

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by ZAHID ARAB / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on November 19, 2013 at 7:33 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 19 at 7:40 PM

TACOMA, Wash. -- After nationwide outrage, nearly $7,000 in taxpayer money will no longer go to the religious organization Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF).

On its website, the organization is described as a “Bible-centered worldwide organization that is dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled and established in a local church."

According to a local spokesperson, the group has more than 20 after school programs in Pierce County and planned to use the money for renting space at local fairs.

Related: Late addition to Pierce County budget raising legal questions

“If you’re an elected official, you should probably not try to give religious groups money,” said Chelsea Fletcher, who drove from Spanaway to speak against the funding.

Fletcher and others were happy to learn Tuesday that Pierce County Council Member Jim McCune changed his mind and decided to give the money to a Graham horse therapy organization and a local 4-H club instead.

Changing Rein Equine Assisted Activities will receive $2,500 and the Graham 4-H club will receive $4,500.

The money comes from a 1/10th of 1% sales tax, which was passed several years ago for youth violence prevention. Each council member is allowed to spend some of that money on a program of their choice.

“If that’s what he intends to do, that’s great. I’m happy to hear it,” said Fletcher.

In a statement, CEF State Director Jeff Kiser expressed disappointment.

“We respect the decision of the county and pray blessing upon the. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. – Job 1:21b,” Kiser said in the statement.

While Kiser says the money would have been appreciated, it doesn’t make or break CEF. More than 80 percent of the organization’s funding comes from individual donors, with the rest from churches and grants.

McCune wasn’t available for comment, but council members say since KING 5 first reported the proposed contribution, the public has expressed outrage.

“People are becoming aware of this on a national level and they’re not ok with it,” said Fletcher.

Council member Connie Ladenburg says she received at least 60 concerned emails from all over the country.

“It was pretty concerning to me. It was pretty religious based,” said Ladenburg.

Despite county attorneys saying the contribution was legal, Ladenburg believed the contribution was a violation of Separation of Church & State.  After learning McCune would no longer give the money to CEF, she proposed a County Ordinance amendment, which reads: ”No County money shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.”

“If someone wants to do an afterschool program for kids to keep them out of trouble, then they can do that, but if they want to do an afterschool program where they’re teaching about Jesus Christ to keep them out of trouble, they can’t do that,” said Ladenburg.

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