A national church-state watchdog group has urged Fresno Mayor James Patterson to reimburse the city's taxpayers, charging the mayor inappropriately arranged for the payment of $75,000 for a Promise Keepers rally.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that Patterson's use of public funds to pay for the stadium rental for a Promise Keepers rally last June raises serious legal concerns. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the California State Constitution forbid the use of tax money to subsidize religion, he said.
Lynn noted Article XVI, Sec. 5 of the state constitution that states, "Neither the Legislature, nor any county, (nor) city...shall ever make an appropriation of, or pay from any public fund whatever, or grant anything to or in aid of any religious sect, church, creed or sectarian purpose...."
"One can interpret the efforts of the Promise Keepers in many ways, but their rallies are surely of a 'sectarian purpose,'" said Lynn. "As such, it would appear that by intentionally and publicly subsidizing an event where one religious faith is featured and celebrated, Mayor Patterson's office chose to make an appropriation to a religious group for a religious purpose, ignoring the constitutional law prohibiting him from doing so."
Lynn insisted that this irresponsible misuse of public funds embarrasses the city and threatens the public trust of those Patterson represents. He concluded that there is a single recourse for Patterson regarding this embarrassing ordeal.
"In light of this error, it appears the only responsible course of action is for you to reimburse the taxpayers of Fresno for their money that you inappropriately spent," Lynn said. "I urge you to begin to make amends for this breach of the public trust by paying back the taxpayers for the misuse of their money."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.