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Lawsuit targets city’s grant to National Baptists

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — Atheists have sued a National Baptist pastor and Kansas City government leaders over a $65,000 grant approved for use during the Baptist group’s upcoming national convention in the city.

The grant to John Modest Miles Ministries, a community nonprofit arm of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, violates Missouri law that prohibits public aid for religious purposes, American Atheists Inc. and two of its Kansas City members claim in a lawsuit posted on the American Atheists’ website.

The atheists object to the Kansas City Council’s approval of the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund grant to the ministry, which plans to use the money to support tourism during the Sept. 5-9 National Baptist Convention USA (NBC-USA) national meeting in Kansas City. The July 22 suit and preliminary injunction filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri seek to block the grant allocation and have it declared unconstitutional.

NBC-USA President Jerry Young, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., spoke during the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2016 annual meeting in St. Louis in connection with his joint promotion of racial reconciliation with immediate past SBC President Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.

The Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund was established in 1989, according to the Kansas City government website, to support “non-profit organizations through contracts for services … to help promote Kansas City’s distinct and diverse neighborhoods through cultural, social, ethnic, historic, educational and recreational activities in conjunction with promoting the city as a premier convention, visitor and tourist center.”

Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church pastor John Miles was not available for comment in time for Baptist Press’ posting July 29 but had told the Kansas City Star newspaper the suit “was a shock” to him. Miles said the money would be used for transporting convention delegates and other visitors, the Kansas City Star reported.

City tourism funds were also allocated to Miles’ ministry when he served as chairman of the host committee for NBC USA national conventions in 1998, 2003 and 2010, Miles told the Kansas City Star, but the paper said in a July 26 report that it was unable to verify the allocations because the city’s database records only go back five years. American Atheists Inc., in a July 22 press release on its website, said the grants amounted to $100,000 in 1998, $142,000 in 2003 and $77,585 in 2010.

The Kansas City metropolitan area economy receives $4.6 billion in tourism and convention industry dollars annually from about 22.3 million U.S. visitors, the city said on its website, with top activities listed as shopping, fine dining, gaming, sightseeing, cultural attractions, sports events, exhibits and festivals.

Programming ineligible for funding includes those not marketed broadly to local residents, tourists and visitors; political activities; routine, ongoing activities of neighborhood organizations and home associations; the maintenance of capital projects including tourist attractions; previously completed activities and projects, and programs and/or services of organizations that benefit other cities or regions.