Metro (Nashville) Council Member Ronnie Greer moved last Tuesday (December 19) to defer indefinitely his resolution that would have drawn $5,000 from council infrastructure funds to send to Nashville Inner City Ministry (NICM) after the Metro Legal Department recommended that his bill be withdrawn entirely. The Legal Department based its position on probable Establishment Clause violations.
The NICM is affiliated with Churches of Christ, which bind benevolence and evangelism together in their mission "to relieve human suffering and share the gospel with the lost." That is clearly a proselytizing purpose, which draws into question the allocation of public funds.
During debate on deferral the advisor from the Council Office told Mr. Greer that, even if the council voted to send the funds to the ministry, the Legal Department would never permit Metro to follow through with the council's wishes. Mr. Greer asked if the Legal Department saw any difference between NICM and the YMCA (which has received Metro funding in the past). The advisor replied that they did see a difference; hence, funding the YMCA was not a violation of the 1st Amendment.
Comparing NICM's mission to that of the YMCA seems to bear Metro Legal out. One of NICM's self-stated goals is very clearly proselytizing: it intends to "reach the lost." NICM also intends to "plant churches in the Inner Cities" and to "share Christ." The Mission of the YMCA seems to lack any explicit reference to converting the people whom it helps:
A worldwide charitable fellowship united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of helping persons grow in spirit, mind and body.
"Helping persons grow" seems to serve a broader public purpose than does sectarian commitments to planting churches and converting those whom NICM serves. Even if it would pay just for transportation costs, the money would be going to help NICM propagate a personal faith.Nevertheless, two of Greer's fellow council members, Randy Foster and Carolyn Baldwin Tucker (both of whom are Churches of Christ members), called the deferral "a travesty." The council voted to sustain Greer's indefinite deferral, which means that Greer can still bring the NICM resolution back for a vote in the future.