Why is This County’s Sheriff’s Office Holding a Fundraiser for a Christian Organization?

This story seems pretty innocuous — almost silly — except for one detail.

In Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where a new jail will soon be open for business, the Washington County Sheriff Rick Silver is allowing local residents a chance to have a bit of fun and see the new facilities — while raising money for charity.

Silver says he will open the doors of the new jail for one night, Friday, November 18, 2011. For $50 you can be processed into the jail facility, photographed, and fingerprinted on a charge that will get a laugh out of your family members for years to come.

Once jail personnel process you into the facility you will change into brand new orange clothing and tour the facility and be served a jail meal.

You will get to go home after out processing which starts at 7 a.m. the next morning.

For couples wanting something different for a date, the cost is $90.

You know, that actually sounds kind of entertaining. How many of us have never seen the inside of a jail cell? How many of us would enjoy having those pictures taken inside a cell, in prison garb, just to amuse our friends? And if the money’s going to a good cause, what’s the harm?

There’s the problem.

The money is going to Mary Martha Outreach, a Christian organization:

No one’s arguing that MMO doesn’t help a lot of people. I’m sure they do. In fact, if you read article, you can see the awesome things that the group does. That’s not the point. The only issue here is that a tax-payer funded facility is being used to benefit a Christian organization.

Why them and not a local charity run by non-Christians or Muslims? Why not donate the money to a local public school? Are there no secular outreach programs in the community for individuals who need the food, clothes, or other services?

I know we’re going to be seen as the bad guys for raising this question in the first place, but it doesn’t look like any of the local media outletsare doing their job and inquiring into whether or not this is legal.

So we’ll do it for them. (I’ve passed this along to FFRF.)

(Thanks to Beau for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    This sounds like a truly awful fundraiser.
    Why would anybody want to be treated like a prisoner? Even for one day.

  • Erp

    Founded on Christian principles isn’t quite the same as requiring Christian principles or discriminating on religious grounds.

    BTW their 990 forms can be found at http://nccsdataweb.urban.org/orgs/profile/731588880#overview
    I do find it worrying that their governing documents are not available to the public and their statement of non-discrimination in providing services does not include religion.  Their income also seems to be much larger than their expenditures on services, but, I could well be misreading the form.

    • Aaron Scoggin

      It appears that their revenue less expenses for 2009 is $66,107. If you go down further, you can see that their total income is $1,251,079, while their total expenses are only $345,279, leaving them with a revenue of $905,782. That’s almost a million dollars of money that they’ve not given back. I don’t know if this is typical for a charitable organization, just throwing the numbers out there. My question right now is, why the hell do they need a fundraiser?

      • Erp

        I don’t think it is typical but it could be an oddity for the year (e.g., if a large donation came right at the year end, they wouldn’t have been able to spend it  before year end).  That year’s income was about three times as much as the previous year so it does seem they got something big they may not have expected.  Your question is still a good one.     You might want to look further at program expenses (and the breakdown there) versus other expenses.

  • loopsyel

    Reaching…

    • Beau McElhattan

      ??

  • Aaron Scoggin

    So basically, you pay 50$ to be a prisoner for a day? That sounds cool, except for the part where you have to stay overnight. Might as well go get drunk in public and get this deal for free IMO.

  • Anonymous

    Seems harmless enough to me

  • Trina

    Many, many communities do not have secular outreach organizations.  I think it’s a situation that needs to be addressed.  I’ve personally known two people (in different areas & neither knew the other) who, though christian at the time,  while homeless, actually often didn’t make use of needed resources (particularly shelters) because of the religious hoops that one had to jump through.  Imagine making the choice to sleep in the open because  the only other option is required prayer and bible studies.   The homeless are treated with little enough dignity, as it is.  Not a good situation.

  • Renshia

    Sounds like bringing up a lot of bad memories to me.

  • Pseudonym

    Separation of church and state requires that the state not discriminate against an organisation just because it’s religious.

    I agree with several of the suggestions above: Look into this group’s books, look into what other local charities of similar capability could have been helped and so on. There’s no need to jump to a conclusion without all the facts.

    (Unfortunately, jumping to a conclusion without all the facts is something that the FFRF is extremely good at.)

  • Brandie

    What bothers me is the Christian principals aspect, with these type of organizations their views are pushed very heavily on these people they help, and I’m sorry if I was in a position in which I needed help, I would be obligated to at least listen to their ideas. These people need to be helped and its wonderful for the department to be raising money for their idea, but Christian organizations like this one only help those in need as a way to further push their beliefs on to those the help.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    For $50 you can be processed into the jail facility, photographed,
    and fingerprinted on a charge that will get a laugh out of your family
    members for years to come.

    Am I the only one who finds this troubling? Are people really that stupid that they would actually pay money for this, because you know, it’s going straight into a database somewhere. Not that I want to sound like I hate cops(I don’t) but they just can’t be trusted with that kind of data. It’ll get processed for real before  you can read your get-out-of-jail free card. I gotta hand it to some police chief somewhere, who came up with that idea.

    • Drew M.

      I apparently missed the part where they talked about using the *real* system database for this fundraiser.

  • Archie

    I agree that financial statements of non-profit organizations should be public.  And I appreciate these being studied by objective outsiders with accounting skills.
    That being said, I as an atheist and former protestant minister do volunteer work for a local Catholic charity.  I see people in need being able to feed their families without the slightest hint of sectarian opportunism.  Humanism is as humanism does my momma always said.

  • Drew M.

    Hemant, Bartlesville only has 36k people. Perhaps they’re only doing what this guy had to do:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/09/09/an-atheist-donates-to-a-catholic-group-because-they-have-the-infrastructure-in-place-to-help-others/

    I understand the concern about using taxpayer fundeed facilities, but I don’t see the harm in this case.

  • cee

    I think the bigger problem is how offensive it is to act like being in prison is novel or fun. It’s a living horror for many, many people, most of them racial minorities and socioeconomically disadvantaged people. It strikes me as very flippant and offensive in the face of the reprehensible conditions throughout most of the American prison industrial complex. 


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