Atheists sue Missouri officials over Baptist convention

Associated Press

Kansas City, Mo. — A group of atheists has sued Kansas City, Missouri, officials over the planned use of $65,000 in tourism tax dollars to aid an upcoming Baptist convention.

The Kansas City Star reports that American Atheists Inc. and two Kansas City members filed the lawsuit Friday against Kansas City Mayor Sly James, city manager Troy Schulte, the city council and the municipal government.

The lawsuit argues that using tax money to aid Modest Miles Ministries Inc. in preparing for the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., scheduled to be held Sept. 5-9, would advance a religious purpose in violation of American Atheists’ right to be free from compelled support of religious institutions.

The city declined to comment on the lawsuit, but city spokesman Chris Hernandez says contract language would show that the money would be used for secular purposes. He pointed out no contract has been signed yet.

Hernandez claims Modest Miles Ministries is a nonprofit arm of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City that does secular work in the community. The nonprofit is registered with the Missouri secretary of state’s office as a social service organization.

Rev. John Modest Miles, a senior pastor at the church, said the National Baptist Convention has previously held its event in the city, and that he was shocked to hear about the lawsuit.

Miles said city tourism funds had been appropriated for the convention in the past, and are used for transporting convention delegates and other visitors.

According to Thad Jones, a coordinator with the local host committee, the convention is expected to attract about 9,000 or 10,000 delegates.