The Kansas City, Missouri, City Council approved a grant of $65,000 for the Modest Miles Ministry in April to shuttle people from their hotels to Bartle Hall where the National Baptist Convention is taking place September 5-9.
However, city officials recently said they were not going to sign a contract with Rev. John Modest Miles to hand over the tax dollars without a promise that the money would go for secular purposes only, due to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Atheists Inc. and two Kansas City residents in July. The convention date is now so close that it's very unlikely any contract for the money will be signed, notes The Kansas City Star.
"All of us are in tears," Miles told the newspaper. "I’m up at night praying. That’s all I know to do."
City Manager Troy Schultz confirmed, "At this time, we will not be using public money," but added that the city would try to help Miles find private donors to replace the taxpayer money.
Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, told The Kansas City Star via phone: "I would hope that those who are part of the atheist movement would not take the position that the money used by the city to market the city and to bring economic development and enhancement, I would hope they would not believe that ought to apply to everybody but Christians."
According to Young, the Baptist convention is not promoting religion, but is rather a business meeting that will bring economic benefits to the city as any convention would:
When you spend money to bring 20,000 people to your city, you’re not spending that money to promote the cause. You’re spending that money because it just makes sense. ...
Once you decide that you can’t do this because this is a religious group, you have just decided you’re going to discriminate against religion and all the religious people in Kansas City who pay taxes. How asinine is that?
Amanda Knief, national legal director for American Atheists, countered: "It wouldn’t matter if it was Christians or any other religious organization. The Missouri Constitution is very clear that taxpayer dollars should not support a religious event. And this is a religious event."
According to the newspaper, the state constitution states: "Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other municipal corporation, shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose."
"Taxpayers in Kansas City brought this to our attention," Knief added. "We did try to resolve it with the city. We’re not out to target anybody, but the law is the law."
The National Baptist Convention USA website states on its "Convention Theme" page:
"Envisioning the Future Exceptionally through Our Commitment to Christian Stewardship"
11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (NIV)
1 Corinthians 4:1-2
4 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (NIV)