Cranford, NJ—Today, July 22, 2016, American Atheists and two Kansas City residents filed a complaint in federal court asking for a temporary and permanent injunction to prevent the City of Kansas City from giving $65,000 to Modest Miles Ministries, Inc. for the National Baptist Convention to be held in September 2016.
Since April 2016, American Atheists and the local plaintiffs, Joshua Stewart and Eric Abney, have been working to force the city to address the illegality of the funding under Missouri’s constitution, which prohibits public aid for religious purposes. Karen Donnelly of Copilevitz & Canter is serving as local counsel for American Atheists and the residents.
“The National Baptist Convention is inherently religious—and it is clear under Missouri law and the First Amendment that Missouri taxpayers should not be paying for it,” said Amanda Knief, American Atheists National Legal Director.
“This is a shocking violation of the state and federal constitutions. Direct funding of a religious ministry in the form of a cash handout is exactly the sort of action our founders and the framers of the Missouri constitution sought to prevent,” Knief added.
Modest Miles Ministries claims in emails to the City that the funds will be used for transportation to and from the convention, making the funding purposes “secular.” That would mean, according to Modest Miles Ministries’ funding application, about 25% of the entire budget of the convention—$65,000—is being spent on shuttles to and from the convention.
The $65,000 grant for the Baptist Convention was the second largest grant that the City gave in 2016. This was the fourth time the City has approved funding the National Baptist Convention: in 1998, the City approved $100,000 (about 32% of the convention’s total budget); in 2003, the City approved $142,000 (about 42% of the convention’s total budget); and in 2010, the City approved $77,585 (about 27% of the convention’s total budget).
American Atheists is asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to enjoin the City from disbursing any funds to Modest Miles Ministries or the National Baptist Convention. The complaint also asks the Court to declare the $65,000 grant to be unconstitutional and award attorney’s fees.