A nonprofit organization has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help the National Baptist Convention make up a $65,000 tourism grant lost after an atheist group filed a lawsuit questioning the use of taxpayer dollars to support the group’s annual session scheduled Sept. 5-9 in Kansas City, Mo.
The Black Health Care Coalition — a nonprofit organization working against African-American health disparities in comparison to non-Hispanic whites — intends to be at the convention to provide blood pressure screenings, diabetes checks, smoking cessation, behavior health screenings, lead screenings, BMI and heart disease assessments.
“The church is the oldest social service organization in history,” says a campaign description on the page started by Black Health Care Coalition President Melissa Robinson. “Today, we depend on the church to address food insecurity, after school tutoring, summer learning, health interventions, job fairs and other social service solutions. It is a place where community is built.”
Robinson said more than half of the charity’s 5,800 uninsured residents in Missouri and Kansas in need of medical care are cared for by the church.
In April the city council approved the grant from the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund to provide shuttle service from hotels to the convention hall. The gathering, one of the city’s largest conventions in 2016, is expected to bring up to 20,000 people to Kansas City with an estimated economic impact of $7.9 million.
City officials balked at signing a contract, however, after American Atheists Inc. and two members who live in Kansas City, filed a lawsuit in federal court July 22 claiming the grant “would impermissibly aid the national Baptist institution and advance its religious purpose in violation of Plaintiffs’ right to be free from compelled support of religious institutions and activities” under the U.S. and Missouri constitutions.
“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,” Amanda Knief, American Atheists national legal director, said in a press release. “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.”
Jerry Young, president of the NBC, USA, Inc., said his group would bring the same economic and business benefits to the city as any other convention.
“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,” Young told the Kansas City Star.
Young, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., recently appeared at the Southern Baptist Convention for a panel discussion on racial unity and the church in America alongside outgoing SBC President Ronnie Floyd.
“The city is unable to honor a $65,000 commitment to the National Baptist Convention because of ‘separation of church and state,’” says the GoFundMe appeal. “Let’s join together to honor the social service agenda of the National Baptist Convention. Your donation will advance the Convention’s Criminal Justice Agenda; The Conventions’ Disaster Relief Agenda; The Convention’s Housing Agenda; the Convention’s Health Agenda!”