Tuesday, January 10, 2012

West Virginia County's Funding of Jesus Fest Creates Controversy

The Harrison County West Virginia Commission is receiving conflicting advice on the constitutionality of its $2000 grant to Jesus Fest, a two-day festival in downtown Clarksburg. The festival has received the grant for the last 5 years. According to the Charleston Daily Mail last month, the funding comes from video lottery and table game revenue given to the county by the state which is used to fund festivals and community events. In a Dec. 22 letter (full text), the ACLU of West Virginia says that the funding violates the Establishment Clause as well as provisions of the West Virginia constitution that bar favoring any sect or denomination.  However a Jan. 5 letter (full text) from The Rutherford Fund argues that the funding is constitutional because the the county's program neutrally funds all types of community events without regard to their viewpoint.  The letter goes on to argue that the funding does not benefit religion, but instead covers costs of general festival expenses such as children's movies and a second stage. (Rutherford Institute press release.) The ACLU asked for a response by Jan. 6, but the county prosecuting attorney says he needs more time to study the issue. (WDTV News).

UPDATE: WDTV News reported on Jan. 19 that Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Shaffer ruled that the county's process for funding fairs and festivals such as the Jesus Festival is neutral and does not endorse religion or deny funding on the basis of religion.