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ACLU complains about religious concert in Missouri

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City suburb that attracted a record crowd to its community concert series by inviting a contemporary Christian group plans to stay away from the genre in the future after the American Civil Liberties Union complained.

The issue arose after the June 26 concert in the city's downtown square featured the Sidewalk Prophets from Nashville, Tenn. The ACLU's regional office claimed the event violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which bars the government from endorsing religion.

The ACLU noted that the city's Parks Department paid the band a $4,000 appearance fee, plus $466 for the group's lodging and $4,570 for the rental of stage and sound equipment.

About 2,000 people turned out, about ten times more than a typical community concert draws, Liberty City Administrator Curt Wenson said.

Despite the event's success, he said this past week that the city has agreed not to sponsor another contemporary Christian band.

"We will do a concert series next summer and we will watch ourselves very closely because we don't want to offend anybody," Wenson said. "That is not our intent. As a city we normally play by the rules."

The ACLU filed an open records request over the summer and wrote a letter expressing concerns earlier this month. The ACLU noted that the Sidewalk Prophets' concert rider stated that the band would speak for several minutes in support of an American Bible Society campaign to help Congolese women. The effort employs a "proven program of Scripture-based trauma healing," the Bible Society said on its website.

"The City of Liberty should not play favorites with religion," said Doug Bonney, the legal director of the ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri. "Doing so ignores the great religious diversity within our nation, and it also makes members of unrepresented religions feel like outsiders within their own communities. Quite simply, it is unlawful for city officials to promote one religion over another."

Wenson described the selection of the Sidewalk Prophets as an innocent effort to attract people to the downtown square, which is being revitalized. He said several other cities invite contemporary Christian groups to perform.

"This is the first time we had what we consider a nationally recognized band and that was all that we were concerned about," Wenson said. "So we aren't out there trying to violate any rule or anything like that."

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