The Chapel Valley Church received a $10,000 taxpayer-funded grant from the city of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, to offset the cost of various community events, including group lunches, a job fair and community movies — but it turns out the church has been less than transparent about its plans for the money.
The funds were granted by the city’s Healthy Neighbor Initiative, which Friendly Atheist noted “aims to improve three specific parts of the city with respect to opportunity, diversity, and sustainability.”
On its application for the grant, the church said its events were secular in nature, but an investigation by the Freedom From Religion Foundation found the opposite: the church has every intention of using the funds for religious outreach.
In a now-deleted sermon on the church’s website, FFRF heard Pastor Jeremiah Genin say, “Imagine if all of us were there, and each one of us talked to three people, and each one of us prayed and ministered to three people. Just let the holy spirit — no pressure, the Lord will do it!”
He also said, “For each of these events, we try to spread the Word in as many ways as we can,” and told the congregation that “what we are doing is both spiritual and practical.”
Friendly Atheist said one could “rationalize all this by saying Christians are always spreading the Gospel just by being decent people,” but that would be an overly charitable read of the situation.
The sermon reveals a deliberate “bait-and-switch,” Friendly Atheist said: “They’re offering community events with the sole purpose of painting a target on the backs of unchurched people who attend in order to win new converts. It’s indirect proselytizing. The end goal remains bringing people to Christ.”
“As you are certainly aware, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from financially supporting religious activities,” FFRF Staff Attorney wrote in a letter to Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson. “It is incumbent on the city to ensure that it funds only secular activities. Church-run social events intended to promote religion are not appropriate secular activities.”