An item in a Washington county council’s proposed budget that would give taxpayer funding to a fundamentalist Christian organization that works to convert young children must not be approved, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a letter sent today to the Pierce County Council in Washington state, Americans United warned that handing out $7,000 in public aid to Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) would be a clear violation of both the Washington and U.S. Constitutions. It could spark legal action, the group said.
“If this grant goes through, Pierce County will be paying for preaching,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “That’s not even remotely legal.”
Added Lynn, “There is no question that Child Evangelism Fellowship has a purely religious mission. The county would be wise to drop this budget item immediately.”
According to its website, CEF is 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." The group runs several ministries both nationwide and internationally that are targeted at children; it also trains ministers and distributes Bibles.
Based in Warrenton, Mo., CEF is controversial because of programs it runs in many public schools after hours. Critics say the organization zeroes in on young children and seeks to lure them into an extremely conservative form of fundamentalist Christianity.
CEF is so intent on converting youngsters to fundamentalism that it has even produced “wordless books” aimed at children who don’t yet know how to read.
According to news reports, the Pierce County Council intends the grant to help Child Evangelism Fellowship rent space at local fairs.
“Pierce County’s funding of Child Evangelism Fellowship would be unlawful even if County money were used for items that are not overtly religious,” AU’s letter says. “Government funds may not finance even secular items if they are used to conduct or support religious activity… Dedicating the money to payment of rental fees at local fairs… would inevitably support religious activity.”
The 2014 budget proposal is expected to receive final approval from Pierce County on Tuesday. Americans United is asking that the allocation to CEF be removed from the budget. Failure to do so, AU attorneys assert, could result in litigation.
The letter was signed by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.