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Donation request sparks separation debate

Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen picked up a discussion on an $8,000 donation to a faith-based organization from a previous meeting, Thursday, March 25, but that organization eventually withdrew its request.

Feeding God’s Children, loosely affiliated with Two Rivers Church in Loudon County, asked the Town for $8,000 for a tow-behind grill, which would be used at fundraisers and events.

The request sparked debate on the separation of church and state, and whether the Town could or should make donations to faith-based organizations.

“We’re getting a lot of requests like this lately. … We’re going to have to make some decisions on this,” Town Attorney Tom Hale said.

“Whether Feeding God’s Children is doing good or not is not the question — it’s whether the town of Farragut has the ability to do what it’s being asked,” he added.

According to Hale, Farragut must answer to both state and federal regulations on how and if to donate money to faith-based organizations.

The state specifies that donations to “pervasively sectarian” organizations constitutes a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Charitable organizations are considered worthy if they benefit the general population in a “year round” way.

No preference of any kind can be given to modes of worship, religions or denominations.

Feeding God’s Children spokesman Sid Kemp said the group does not require that its volunteers or recipients be “believers.”

“We want to tell them about Jesus because we know that changes their lives permanently,” he said.

According to Kemp, Feeding God’s Children provides food and other necessities to children in Guatemala and Appalachia.

“Obviously most of the kids here in Farragut aren’t physically hungry. But they have a different kind of hunger,” Kemp said. About half of the organization’s volunteers are Farragut residents or businessmen, he added.

Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche said, “I personally would very much like to help them,” and advocated donating the final $2,000 left in the Town’s community grants fund.

Alderman Bob Markli told Kemp he would “be happy to contribute my personal funds,” but said he felt uncomfortable donating the Town’s money.

These are public funds and the benefits on general welfare should be as broad as possible, Markli said.

“As a member of this Board, I would have to deny this request,” Markli said.

He and Alderman John Williams presented several scenarios demonstrating that opening the door to donations to faith-based organizations also was opening a can of worms.

“This is a ministry … how do we determine which ministries to donate to?” Markli asked.

Williams queried how the Town would be perceived if it approved a donation to one denominational ministry but not another, or to one ministry from a church but not another ministry from the same church.

“What a quagmire that would be,” he said.

Hale added, “If we start a process of using the funds of the Town [for donations to faith-based organizations] the reality will be that they will come.”

Kemp stood before the Board and withdrew the request for the $8,000.

“I don’t want to create a hardship or controversy … at this time I think it’s appropriate I withdraw our request.

“I feel in my spirit this is appropriate,” he added.


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