By Jim McCune
Budgeting is perhaps the most important job of your elected representatives. Discerning where to direct your tax dollars to provide the services government is charged with providing is something I take very seriously.
Most recently, you may have heard something about funding, administered by Community Connections, designated for programs that deter youth violence. Prior to my coming to the Pierce County Council, the council members realized that there were additional, excellent, qualifying programs in their districts that perhaps were not aware of the grant program or didn’t realize they qualified for the program. This led to a percentage of the grant funds being directed by the council members to additional organizations.
The goal of the program is to deter youth violence, a global issue that does not discriminate against its victims. Our youth are individuals; therefore, there is no “one size fits all” program that addresses youth violence. There are many roads that lead to youth engaging in violence, and mentoring is one approach that fosters personal confidence and boosts one’s self-esteem, thereby, reducing the tendency toward violent behavior. When discerning which organizations would be worthy of receiving funds to aid in deterring youth violence, I felt that those whose focus was on building good and principled character traits would be deemed beneficial.
Unfortunately, a great deal of confusion was created due to a negative outreach campaign by those who practice humanism and organizations such as Americans United (a tax-exempt organization that promotes an atheistic stance toward policies, adhering to the falsely promoted idea that the Constitution speaks to the separation of church and state). The First Amendment came in under the Blaine Amendment, it could be said it was written to further distinguish or define between freedom “of” religion and freedom “from” religion.
For the record, I never claimed that Child Evangelism Fellowship wasn’t a religious foundation; I was specific that funds would not be used for curriculum that violated policy. I was merely exercising the constitutional right for organizations with different philosophical views to have equal access to funds.
To this point, 81 e-mails were received on the subject. Only two were from the 3rd Council District. In a county of over 800,000 residents, 23 were from out of state, 15 from other counties, and 43 mostly from the county’s urban areas. I’d say this was blown a bit out of proportion. What was good enough for our Founding Fathers is good enough for me.
Regardless, each organization must follow specific guidelines to qualify for reimbursement for their program. Neither the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (specifically the “no establishment clause”) nor the state constitution prohibits the use of or appropriation of public funds to faith-based organizations.
Public funds may not, however, be used or appropriated for inherently religious activities such as worship, religious instruction or proselytizing. Every organization that receives Youth Violence Prevention Funds is required to enter into a contract with the county through the Community Connections Department in which they will describe the specific activity or program to be funded by public dollars, and they will have to agree therein that no public funds received under the contract will be used for the religious activities described above.
Out of respect for the council and staff time, I determined that this issue would be better addressed at a different time and chose to redirect the funds to different organizations, even though I had the support to maintain the grant.
Jim McCune is a Pierce County Councilman. His district includes some of the Eatonville and Graham areas.