West Virginia ACLU Claims County’s Support of “Jesus Fest” is Unconstitutional

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia has called for an end to Harrison County, West Virginia’s “financial or symbolic support” of Jesus Fest, an annual Christian festival held in downtown Clarksburg.  The Associated Press reports that the executive director of the W. Va. ACLU, Franklin Crabtree, sent a letter on December 22nd to the Harrison County Commission explaining that its “funding and symbolic endorsement of Jesus Fest would likely violate” the Establishment Clause as well as the West Virginia Constitution.  According to the Jesus Fest website, “[t]he event is a family festival with a focus on creating unity in the Body of Christ, which is accomplished through an interdenominational approach to utilizing ecumenical leadership and the involvement of local area churches.”

Crabtree’s letter claims that the Commission has given Jesus Fest $2,000 per year for the last five years.  Crabtree’s letter also states that if the Commission fails to comply with the ACLU’s request, it will inform concerned taxpayers of their right to bring suit.  Commissioner Mike Romano, who is also an attorney, is examining the letter.  He told The Exponent Telegram that if there is validity to the ACLU’s claims, the Commission will take “appropriate action.”  The Commission sent the letter to the county’s Prosecuting Attorney (its chief legal officer), Joe Shaffer, for his opinion.  Shaffer said that he will take a “hard look” at the claims but that “by donating money, (commissioners) are not promoting one religion or promoting religion period; they’re promoting tourism in downtown and community involvement.”

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