[Hpn] Mandatory prayer cost shelter USDA food FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sun, 10 Sep 2000 23:20:29 -0700 (PDT)

Should government fund programs which require service recipients to pray?
Why or why not?

To "Reply To ALL" listmembers of Homeless People's Network (HPN),

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Sep 08, 2000
     Photo Advisory  TNMEM102


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ It may be beans and rice for awhile at a
homeless shelter where mandatory prayers have caught the attention
of government inspectors.

Because of the required praying, Memphis Union Mission is no
longer receiving the 10 tons of meat it has been getting annually
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But Terry Minton of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture said
the meat cutback ``isn't targeting religious activity.''

``If people are needy and they come into your agency and you
have our food to give them ... You can't make them do anything for
that food,'' Minton said.

The shelter, part of a citywide Christian ministry for the poor
and homeless, says the meat will cost some $50,000 a year to
replace. That will account for about a third of the ministry's
budget, which is financed primarily by private donations.

The shelter provided more than 166,000 free meals last year.
Religious services are mandatory before the meals are served three
times a day.

The Rev. Mark Calhoun, the mission's chief executive, said the
shelter has no intention of altering its practices.

``We won't change that. That's the reason we exist,'' Calhoun
said. ``We exist to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ.''

Cheri Holcomb, Calhoun's assistant, said Friday that word of the
shelter losing its meat supply has encouraged many of the
ministry's supporters to increase their usual donations.

``I can't tell you how much yet. It hasn't all been counted, but
we've been overwhelmed with a wonderful response from the public,''
she said.

State inspectors, who oversee USDA programs in Tennessee,
noticed the mission's mandatory prayer rule during a routine
inspection in July.

Minton said the shelter can get back on the USDA meat program if
the religious services are made voluntary.

``It's simply that you cannot put any additional restrictions on
receiving the food,'' he said. ``You can't force people to work for
the food. You can't force them to attend any sort of classes or
counseling or religious services or budget classes.''

Many religious groups draw such USDA assistance. The Salvation
Army also runs a feeding program in Memphis.

``Prayer is not a requirement for any of the services provided
by the Salvation Army,'' said spokeswoman Alexa Robinson. ``Any
religious services that we have available, the participation is
strictly voluntary.''

Holcomb said the shelter expects to continue operating just the
way it has despite the reduction in government aid.

``We'll be here until Jesus comes,'' she said.

AP-CS-09-08-00 1712EDT
Received  Id AP100252D6DFFABA on Sep 10 2000 12:07


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