City Council Member Justifies $7,000 Budget Item for Child Evangelism Group by Claiming It’s Not ‘Religious’

Just as the Pierce County Council (in Washington) was getting ready to approve their 2014 budget last week, the council members decided to amend it to include one additional $7,000 expense.

That money would go to Child Evangelism Fellowship, better known to most of you as the group that sponsors the elementary-school-evangelizing Good News Club:

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.

Jim McCune, the elected official who suggested the donation, offered justification for his lawsuit-worthy decision:

Pierce County Council. Jim McCune is in the center.

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.

what?!

That’s the worst excuse for an illegal action since everything Rob Ford said last week.

CEF is Christian, through and through. Just because they don’t prefer Presbyterians over Lutherans doesn’t make giving them taxpayer money legal.

And since CEF’s very existence is predicated upon “seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled and established in a local church,” McCune’s statement makes no sense at all.

Stoll’s vocal appreciation of the donation isn’t helping her case, either:

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.”

In her mind, it’d be illegal for the city to give her money only if she were working for a particular church. But because she wants to evangelize Christianity in general, there’s no problem, right?!

Wrong. I don’t expect her to know any better. But I do hold McCune to a higher standard as an elected official. He’s putting the entire county in jeopardy of being on the losing end of a lawsuit because he wants taxpayer money to be used to preach Christianity.

If CEF was an Islamic organization, this wouldn’t have even been discussed. The suggestion would’ve been laughed out of the realm of possibility immediately. But because it’s Christian, McCune is hoping no one makes a big deal about it.

The council will be approving the budget tomorrow. If you live in the area — hell, even if you don’t — make sure you let the council members know why this is unacceptable behavior on their part. They can promote whatever religion they want privately, but when they work for the taxpayers, religion must take a backseat.

The Council invites public comment by using the “contact us” link at www.piercecountywa.org/council or by calling (253) 798-7777. The Nov. 19 meeting begins at 3 p.m. in the Council Chambers, located on the 10th floor of the County-City Building, 930 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma.

Once the Council approves a budget, Executive Pat McCarthy will have 10 days to sign or veto it.

If these council members have any sense of responsibility and any shred of intelligence, they’ll remove that amendment before approving their budget.

***Update***: The Humanists of Washington are already condemning this budget item:

“The County has no business using tax dollars to fund a religious organization’s evangelism activities,” said Humanists of Washington President Sam Mulvey. On his local radio show Ask An Atheist, Mulvey posed the rhetorical question “Imagine if Tacoma gave me $1500… to take your children… and tell them that religion poisons everything. Is that something you would like? Is that something you want in schools?” He continued, “The concept of a secular government protects the people in the minority [as well as] people the majority.”

The group is asking residents to attend tomorrow’s final public comment session.

***Update 2***: Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, responded to this situation via email by saying, “Nondenominational” does not mean “nonsectarian.” She reminds us:

Good News Clubs are being established in public elementary schools, and they target children in their very first years of schooling.

Public schools have a kind of cloak of authority in the minds of little children. They cannot make a distinction between an activity that takes place in their school and one endorsed by their school. They think that if something is taught in their school, it must be what the school wants them to believe.


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.


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