The church, Haywood Street Congregation, received a $72,500 grant from Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority for a fresco of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to be painted inside the church by a local artist. This grant program exists to help promote tourism in the region. According to their website, the tourism authority states that you must be a nonprofit to apply, and, in order to receive a grant, you must prove their project “will generate new and incremental room nights” in Asheville. The church went through the proper process, proved it would bring tourists to the region, and was approved to receive the grant.
But someone complained to the FFRF (based in Wisconsin) and—no surprise—the FFRF is trying to stop the church from receiving the grant money, saying “this is just a huge windfall for the church, not just for visitors, but that they are able to spread their religious message and the county cannot be paying for that." Another article cites the FFRF claiming this is “very likely a constitutional violation.”
By all appearances from the grant’s website, however, this is a facially neutral grant offered to any nonprofit that can prove it will increase tourism and hotel stays in the area. To refuse to give the grant to a church simply because of its religious message would be showing hostility toward religion—something the government is not allowed to do according to the Constitution.
This case, from what we can see, seems very similar to the battle we fought here in Kentucky.
This case, from what we can see, seems very similar to the battle we fought here in Kentucky. We were approved to receive a rebate on sales tax generated at the Ark Encounter after it opened. This was a facially neutral tax incentive offered to Kentucky tourist attractions that bring new tax dollars to the state. But the state then rejected our application because of our religious message. We took the state of Kentucky to court, won this important religious freedom lawsuit, and were awarded the tax incentive. FFRF has been bemoaning this ruling ever since.
Many atheists are aggressively trying to make sure there is no mention of Christianity in the public sphere—even to make sure that Christians are treated like second-class citizens by not being allowed to participate in facially neutral programs. Why? Because this is a spiritual battle! These atheists are in rebellion against God and are suppressing the truth (Romans 1:18). They fight against the God they claim doesn’t exist because, in their heart, they know he exists but are in rebellion against him. They want their religion of atheism to be taught exclusively as the religion of the state.
FFRF advertises itself as a group of “unabashed atheists.” Their agenda is not to defend the so-called “separation of church and state,” but to impose their atheist religion on the culture and delete any remote aspect of Christianity they can. They are a group that is very zealous for their religion of atheism—which they want imposed on all.
We need to pray for this atheist group, that those involved will come to know the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ and will repent of their sin and trust in Christ.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.