D.C. Should Drop Mission Subsidy, Says AU

The District of Columbia Council should drop its plan to give over $13 million in property and cash to a ministry that evangelizes the homeless, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The council has voted to convey the so-called Gales School property to the Central Union Mission in exchange for property the mission owns. The value of the city-owned property is assessed at $8.93 million, while the value of the mission’s property is assessed at $2.68 million. The exchange benefits the mission by $6.25 million.

The District also intends to provide $7 million in cash to the mission for renovation of the Gales School building.

The mission’s Web site clearly asserts its religious character. It says praise and worship are provided “whenever the mission doors are open.” Homeless people, it says, hear about Christ at every meal and get an “encouraging word from the Bible.” Guests are invited to take part in Bible studies and receive a “nightly invitation to receive the Lord as Savior.”

Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, “Helping the homeless is certainly laudable, but government officials must not violate basic constitutional mandates in the process. It is wrong for the city to subsidize religious worship and evangelism.”

A long line of federal court decisions has barred government aid to religion, making the D.C. land swap plan unconstitutional, AU stated in its Aug. 12 letter to Mayor Adrian Fenty.