Apopka Family Faith Food Festival

Opinion

By Greg Jackson

To be clear from the start, I am neither a constitutional expert nor a biblical scholar. I am, however, a person who has been trained to interpret the legal meaning and effect of words, as well as the Assistant Superintendent of my church’s Church School and a Sunday School Teacher. It is through the lens of the former that I viewed a recent position taken by the City of Apopka. As some may recall, last year Apopka Commission was asked to provide financial support for a Gospel Festival that would have brought a positive focus to the City during a time when it was needed most. However, the Commission was advised that it should not support any activity involving a religious institution or any religious activity because municipalities are prohibited from supporting religious functions or activities. Now mind you, the City has allocated and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on similar multi- day festivals, and even recently hosted symphonic sounds under the stars without a single peep. But, when it came to a festival that highlighted a certain genre of music that happened to be faith-based, the City was encouraged – no directed – to avoid all Gospel Festivals or religious-based functions for no good reason, other than it was religious. This, in my interpretation (and humble opinion), is an unfortunate position rendered to the City, which gives the appearance that Apopka is pro-business but anti-religion.

The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution state that no law shall be passed “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” While some may interpret this to mean that a governmental agency (i.e., city, county, state, etc.) should not contribute funds to support a religious program, the U.S. Supreme Court, and I, believe quite differently. Recently, in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the high court of the land ruled that governments cannot discriminate against churches that would otherwise qualify for funding just because they are religious institutions. In other words, if Apopka has no issue allocating funds to non-religious festivals, programs and/or functions, than Apopka should not be directed to refuse to allocate funding for any “religious” festival, program and/or function, just because it is religious in nature. Now do not misinterpret what I am saying here and think that I support religious institutions unfettered access to public dollars, I do not support that for any organization or entity. However, what I do support is providing support to all worthwhile entities and not omitting any just because of a certain classification, particularly where the organization serves the greater whole and good of the community.

Departing from the 48 Laws of Power’s 4th Law (Conceal Your Intentions), I believe it is necessary to disclose at least a portion of my intentions, which is to educate and challenge people to approach issues from different viewpoints and perspectives. When people are unaware of their rights and powers, opportunities to be productive citizens may escape them. Moreover, everything I write or say, I have either communicated with or tried to communicate with the persons of interest (e.g., elected officials, business leaders, religious leaders, etc.), for no other reason than to give them options to address pressing issues in the community. In particular, when providing information to elected officials as legal counsel, one thing I am very cognizant of is that I give only legal interpretations and I fight the urge to inadvertently set policy by giving an opinion that reflects my own beliefs, prejudice or non-legal interpretations; that is because the role of setting policy is actually reserved for those elected or appointed to serve.
It is my honest assessment that the City of Apopka wants to be fair across the board and support any program, organization or festival that will benefit its residents. However, the City must also be willing to accept all reasonable interpretations of its role and ability to positively impact all aspects of residents’ lives. Apopka, like many cities across the country, must be willing to unhinge the top from the box it oftentimes finds itself squarely within and support all well- intended efforts to be great — in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson

 

Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.

 

11 COMMENTS

  1. Greg you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine. The title of your article grabs my attention, and whether you authored the title of your article or not, I, for one, do not believe that anyone serving on the Apopka City Council is “anti-religion”. Mayor Kisheimer was going to put on a gospel festival as an option for a new entertainment venue and try it out to see how it would go over and if there would be enough support to have it annually. The funds were allocated in the budget to pay for it with city funds. However, the council votes did not approve the festival due to the fact that some felt that it was being planned too quickly and another’s concern that it was going to be held on the same weekend as another holiday and felt that people would have other commitments or would be other places………..

  2. There were discussions about who would be the entertainers, who would be the event planner, etc…….and the Apopka Ministerial Allicance and the mayor had differeing viewpoints as to who should bring it forth to a successful reality, and who should play the key roles in the planning. It was at this point that the Apopka Minister Alliance said they would have the event there own selves since the council didn’t vote to approve the gospel festival the mayor was going to put on. So the ministerial alliance did put in an applicat(ion to use the amphiltheater at the Northwest Recreation Complex, and asked for a waiver of the fees, or a discount, or for the city to cover part of the fees for the amphitheater rental. This was when the city attorney got involved and basically said that it would be a sticky situation and that the city could not do that, “slippery slope” was the term used, I believe he stated, and that is when he said in fact, the mayor should not of even tried to have the gospel festival with the city funds that they were going to pay for altogether. He said that if they reduced the fees, paid for them, or waivered them, that would start a outpouring of other groups who would do the same. Also, I believe, the application the Apopka Ministerial Alliance had submitted was not listed as non-profit is why the fees were higher than the typical non-profit fees typically charged to non-profits…………….

  3. The Apopka Ministerial Alliance did have their own gospel festival and it was reported that it was a success and people enjoyed it very much. The only thing was that the weather was bad, but no one can predict the weather in Florida……the Apopka City Council DID NOT try to stop the alliance from having their own gospel festival! No one on the council was trying to stop the faith based alliance from enjoying their religion or free exercise of their faith…….the Apopka City Council was listening to the advice of the city attorney because he knows the law and that is why he sits there and advises them on legal issues, otherwise the city would be drawn into more lawsuits, expensive lawsuits, and the taxpayers of this city would be very angry if more lawsuits were to be filed!

  4. Next time I promise I will have my reading glasses on before posting so there won’t be so many typo and grammar errors….LOL

  5. Yikes…..I really should have put on my reading glasses or held the ctrl button down and scrolled to make the print bigger….my vision is terrible up close……all the school teachers are shaking their heads at my errors!….LOL, please forgive, the hot mess…….

  6. This is very interesting, if I follow this correctly, it appears very hypocritical that Mama Mia would make the statement of supporting the attorney’s advise and in the same tone she mentions the city’s approved a budget for a gospel festival. Which is it, did the city counsel and the Mayor attempt to proceed forward based on a political agenda and once it was determined that they would not benefit from it decided to seek the opinion of the city attorney? You can’t unring the bell, they approved the budget for a gospel festival last year, so your point is mute. Also, do you place in validity on the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the exclusion considerations by government entities of faith based organizations? Mr. Jackson, please continue your thought provoking engagement of the obvious… Obvious that the Apopka Mayor is business friendly and Anti-Religious…

  7. Mama Mia,

    It is apparent you are not a legal professional, but I hope that does not also make you a “sheep” who blindly follows what you are told without proof or reason. First, this piece was predicated on the mayor’s request for funds to bring a Gospel Festival to the City, not the Ministerial Alliance. Next, did you really just ignore the US Supreme Court case I referenced? I am sure the government’s attorney in that case thought his or her interpretation of the law was correct as well – turns out it was not. Lastly, NO attorney has ever been 100% correct – myself included – and I am almost certain Apopka’s City Attorney does not want the pressure of being considered “perfect”, because that is when real trouble can present itself.

    Thank you as always for reading and challenging my views, but I also hope you become as objective as you are defensive; once that happens perhaps your eyes will be opened. Thanks again and in the future please feel free to post on my FB or LinkedIn page where I actual see comments and am much more active …. Greg

  8. I tried to post a response but it didn’t go through as the power flickered as a bad storm is moving in. I’ll give it awhile and try again, as I have to unplug right now due to the bad lightning.

  9. I believe that most of the bad lightning is gone now so I will try to respond. Wesley, first of all, just because something is approved at budget time at the city, earmarking something to be held, something to be built, etc. does not always mean it will come to fruit. The” Welcome to Apopka” sign, I will use as an example. The sign was approved as a part of the vision plan previously, but yet the Apopka City Council majority voted against the sign just recently, for various reasons. This was no different than the city’s plan to hold a gospel festival, and then the Apopka City Council voted against it for the reasons I stated above. That is the facts, not opinion. You say I am being hypocritical, how so? I am stating facts. Now, to me, you state that the mayor is obviously business friendly and anti-religion. What is wrong with being business friendly? Isn’t that a plus? To me, it is illogical to accuse someone of being anti-religious who tried extremely hard to put on, and get council approval of a gospel festival. If the mayor truly is anti-religious, then why would he, of all things, try to have a city sponsored gospel festival? Doesn’t make sense to me, but it is good to have open discussions of our differing opinions. No, I don’t believe the mayor is anti-religious, nor any other member of the Apopka City Council either.

  10. Why is it during Apopka election season, the subject of someone being accused of being anti-religious, or too religious, on the opposite end, always come up? The last Apopka election, and the previous Apopka election, both involved questions about candidate’s religiousness, and I don’t think that is fair, in my opinion.

  11. Greg, I don’t post directly to your FB or LinkedIn accounts because I don’t have either of those accounts and really don’t want them anyway. As you stated, I am not a “professional” so I don’t need LinkedIn, and as far as FB, and fake friends, well, I don’t care whether people like me or not……I never claimed to be a legal expert either, but question things I will, especially things that aren’t logical to me, or exaggerated, or accusations I find baseless. I was not ignoring your Supreme Court ruling, you referenced in your article, but how can I argue over the outcome of something I don’t even know about, anyway rulings change, laws change constantly, and even Supreme Court justices change. Even the best attorneys have to research constantly as laws change, right Greg? No, I am not a “sheep” who blindly follows what I am told without proof or reason……bababababa…..bahabababhabaha…….(sheep noise) aren’t you funny, Greg? Are you planning on running as a Republican in some upcoming elections? Just curious……have a good evening, Greg.

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