Flood Relief Work Stumbles over Church-State Issue Group Alleges Misinformation at Baptist Church's Center

Article excerpt

The separation of church and state has become a controversial issue in this flood-ravaged community about 95 miles north of St. Louis.

And the ill feelings created has left two flood-relief groups unhappy with each other.

Officials at the West Pike Baptist Church locked out flood workers last week after a regional planning organization, the Two Rivers Regional Council of Public Officials, said the workers would be moved to a building two blocks away.

The Job Training Partnership Act workers were pulled out of a flood center, housed in donated space at the church, because it contains religious literature. Some workers have complained of being preached to by church officials, said Rick Chapman, executive director of the council.

"The church had also wrongly told workers that they were employed by them and could be fired by them," said Chapman. "Part of the building was (also) being rehabilitated to hold church services."

Chapman said the various problems break an agreement the council had with the church. It also violates federal guidelines on separation of church and state, he said.

But the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, the agency which administers the federally funded JTPA program at the state level, disagreed with Chapman's assessment.

"I saw absolutely no violation," said Frank Day, DCCA's chief of field operations. "There's no conflict having the (religious) materials in the center."

Church officials said they were never warned about religious literature being a problem.

The church's 20 members are upset at the suggestion they are engaging in religious activity where they shouldn't.

"The charges are just not true," said Carrie Bareis, a former Two Rivers employee who resigned last week. …