Atheist Group To Knoxville: Withdraw From Christian Youth Sports Complex

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Mary Lou Lang Contributor
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An atheist organization wants the city of Knoxville to withdraw its support and partial funding of a sports complex project by a Christian-based youth group that helps thousands of inner-city children each year.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation indicated on Thursday that the city’s $2 million funding toward the sports complex, its donation of the land to the Emerald Youth Foundation, and street-scaping around the facility violates both the U.S. and the Tennessee constitutions.

“The Emerald Youth Foundation describes itself as a Christian, urban youth ministry that “desire[s] to raise up a large number of urban youth to love Jesus Christ.” The ministry’s proposed facility will include a “worship and performing arts area,” said FFRF in a press statement.

The group also indicated the sports activities “will almost certainly include religious promotion” as the Emerald Youth Sports openly states that its mission is to ‘mobilize athletes to become Christian leaders.”

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from financially supporting churches,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Knoxville Vice Mayor Duane Grieve. “Further, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that the First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’ Promoting or otherwise endorsing the Emerald Youth Foundation’s religious project fails to respect this constitutional mandate of neutrality.”

“Municipal bodies can easily embark on worthy initiatives without jeopardizing the Constitution,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a prepared statement. “There are organizations available to partner for such ventures that do not seek to impose their beliefs.”

FFRF wants an immediate termination of Knoxville’s partnership in what it called a “religious” project.

Grieve did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

The Emerald Youth Group has used sports to connect the city’s urban young people for more than two decades, according to its website. Emerald Sports collaborates with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to get youth involved in recreation and competitive sports.

FFRF has also targeted schools where students and coaches who belong to FCA pray before games.

The Emerald Youth Group was described as one of the “city’s jewels” that helps inner city children.

“For the past 25 years, the Emerald Youth Foundation has worked to improve the lives of children growing up in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods,” reported the Knoxville News Sentinel. “At the beginning, fewer than 100 children were involved in the foundation’s programs; now the foundation helps transform the lives of 2,400 young people a year.”