HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va. (CBS Washington) – The American Civil Liberties Union has made an official request to the Harrison County Commission to stop funding a local event called Jesus Fest.
In an open letter addressed to Bernie Fazzini and the rest of the commission, the ACLU implores the officials to cease annual contributions to the religiously charged festival.
“We are writing to inform you that the County’s sponsorship of, and contributions to, Jesus Fest violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article III of the West Virginia Consititution,” the letter states. “We ask that you permanently discontinue your funding and public endorsement of Jesus Fest immediately.”
Jesus Fest describes itself as an “annual Christian festival event” on its website.
“The event focuses on evangelism and outreach to the unsaved by means of family oriented activities and events in an atmosphere of interdenominational praise and worship and the preaching of the gospel,” the site reads. “Reaching out to the hurting and oppressed is a biblical mandate for us as a redeemed people.”
Despite the religious overtones of the event, though, Harrison County Commissioner Ron Watson told WBOY-TV that the funds for Jesus Fest do not come from taxpayer money.
“It comes from what I call devil’s money which is gambling money from video lottery and table games that the county has received,” Watson said. “We think that we have acted constitutionally because we will fund any legitimate fair or festival that is appropriately permitted in this county based on an established set of criteria which includes the number of days the festival will be conducted as well as the total amount of the budget.”
According to WBOY, the commission has given the event $2,000 every year for the past five years.
Calls made by CBS Washington to the Harrison County Commission were not immediately returned.