BY JAMES NIMMO
In Oklahoma City there has been for a number of years a dedicated sales tax called MAPS, Metropolitan Area Projects, that has paid for a number of public projects, even though some of those ostensible projects were really for private benefit, such as money going to Bricktown renovation, a purely commercial outlay of public money.
Included is MAPS money proposed for construction of a rail trolley system in the Bricktown theme park, possibly neglecting the more highly used public transit in the rest of the city which is quickly declining even further.
Mayor Mick Cornett has gone on a bus tour to Arkansas to inspect the use of churches as venues for the planned wellness centers in OKC, funded by MAPS money, i.e. public money.
This action of the mayor makes me think he might want to rename the MAPS acronym. Let’s try Mayor Advocating Protestant Services.
Putnam City Baptist Church, among two other supplicants for public money [NorthCare and the Oklahoma County Health Department], has submitted a proposal for some of this public money that you can read at the link below as well as a link to an Oklahoma Gazette story outlining this proposal for possible illegal use of public money. Collected tax money does not become a slush fund to reward the King’s favorites.
Apparently Mayor Cornett is hoping he can skate on past the principle of the separation of church and state, an important concept stated first in the Bill of Rights.
I have three questions to ask about this cozy arrangement of PC Baptist or any other church that comes down the pike, wanting to get some of the MAPS public money:
1. Should PC Baptist get the go-ahead for the wellness center and sells some of its property to OKC how is this arrangement not labeled fungible? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fungibility
The money from the sale of the land goes to the church which in turn receives it back in part as an operating grant for the wellness center, said grant which will far exceed the original profit from selling the land.
2. Bible study is one of the offered activities. Need I say more?
3. If PC Baptist, or any other church, is so committed for the health and spiritual wellness of OKC senior citizens, why not go it alone? Why entangle a 501(c)(3) non-profit, not-taxable organization with the secular requirements of a municipality? Or will the churches get a sweetheart deal from the City Council?
Churches have their own corporate prospectus, aka the Bible, and it claims Jesus drove moneylenders from a temple.
Who would want to monkey with that example?
In this era of corporate profit and consumer-driven demand it might be easy for some people to forget that every church – be it Protestant, Catholic, Freewill, Non-denominational, Brush Arbor Revival, or Washed-in-the-Blood-of-the-Lamb Fundamentalist – has as its primary purpose to recruit, proselytize, and magnetize as large a congregation as possible, by any means legal or shady.
Other people with an official vote on this issue also are questioning the suitability of tying tax money to an exclusively religious organization. A sub-committee of the OKC City Council chose not to plunge in with PC Baptist.
Panel members discussed whether to include Putnam City Baptist Church as a second potential operating partner but ultimately decided against it. In its application, the church indicated it would sell land from its campus to OKC for the construction of a wellness center and invest the proceeds in a fund to maintain its operation.
Board member Terri Watkins said she could not vote for the church application because she feared church members might try to proselytize to wellness center visitors. Church officials are planning to establish Healthy Living Inc., a secular nonprofit that would operate a wellness center.
“I’m concerned about affiliating with a church,” Watkins said. “It might alienate people, and we need to make it available to all comers.”
Will we be seeing T-shirts with the slogan “Sweatin’ for Jesus” sometime soon?
– James Nimmo is communications chair of the OKC Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and an occasional contributor to The Oklahoma Observer