As part of a backroom deal, the city council of Raleigh, N.C., has decided to provide $150,000 so the Jehovah’s Witnesses can hold a major event locally.

Council members approved the handout earlier this month in a closed-door vote so that the Jehovah’s Witnesses can hold their annual convention at PNC Arena in Raleigh next year, Indy Week reported.

Unfortunately, this is apparently standard operating procedure: Since 2008, Raleigh has doled out $875,000 in tax dollars to the religious group for its gathering, Indy Week said. 

City officials justified its action by noting that the money goes to PNC Arena, not directly to a religious organization, and they say economic benefit is the rationale.

Americans United doesn’t exactly buy that defense, and we’re raising questions.

“This seems like a plain violation of the separation of church and state and the Constitution,” AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser told Indy Week. “Government can’t fund religious meetings.”

Concludes the AU lawyer, “You can’t ask the taxpayers to support a religious belief they don’t hold.” 

That’s why Luchenitser said Americans United will be asking Raleigh to stop funding the convention now and in the future.

City officials, however, may be reluctant to comply.

“The bottom line: if the group meets the strict funding criteria and contracts hotels rooms with our hotel partners while generating direct economic impact,…we are open to possibly assisting regardless of the group type,” Loren Gold of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau told Indy Week.

What if a Muslim group wanted to bring thousands of people into Raleigh for a weekend of prayer and proselytizing? Would the city fund that convention? Seems pretty unlikely, but those are the kinds of requests a local government can get when it when it starts subsidizing religious activity.

Even though the city council has been trying to conduct its religion-funding business in secret, the word is clearly out about what’s going on in Raleigh. The city would be wise to cut ties with the Jehovah’s Witnesses now that Americans United is watching.