A Christian mission serving homeless people since 1939 is under investigation for discrimination because its walls are adorned with crosses and other religious imagery.
The probe was prompted by a city fair-housing investigator, who also happens to be a cross-dressing Wiccan openly contemptuous of mainstream religions, the Charleston, W. Va., Daily Mail reported.
Huntington City Mission
The investigation began May 8 when Okey Napier Jr., walked into the Huntington City Mission in West Virginia and noticed the “Christian imagery” and other things that caused the city’s Human Relations Commission to probe allegations the homeless shelter violated the state’s fair housing laws.
The mission is supported mostly by private donations but also receives some state and federal money.
The City Mission’s lawyers say the investigation raises serious questions about the length religious groups need to go to separate their beliefs from their charitable work, the Daily Mail reported.
They filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. U.S. District Court in Huntington to abort the investigation.
“Enough is enough,” said attorney Dave Duffield, according to the paper. “How would you like them to come into your church and tear the cross down?”
He points the finger at Napier, who wrote a piece on his website criticizing major religions for their condemnation of homosexuality.
“Nobody, unless they had an agenda, would do this,” Duffield said.
However, Sally Lind, the commission’s executive director, insists the probe simply is about how the mission can do its necessary work in a “non-discriminatory way.”
Last year, the Charleston paper said, the mission provided a place to sleep for thousands of people and served more than 82,000 meals. It also provides spiritual guidance and holds daily worship services.
The commission voted last month to scrutinize the mission’s policies, which include barring drugs and alcohol and not allowing unmarried couples to sleep in the same room.
The panel, which enforces the state’s fair-housing laws, is looking at allegations the mission discriminates according to religion and gender. The accusations include requiring people seeking help to reveal their spiritual beliefs, serving non-Christians in facilities with Christian imagery and making married men spend two nights under “observation” in the men’s dorm before joining their spouse in the family dorm, the Daily Mail said.
The mission contends most of its clients do not use the mission’s spiritual services but still are welcome to anything the mission has to offer.
Lawyer Chad Lovejoy, who regards the probe as an attack on First Amendment rights, said the mission no longer has a policy of requiring clients to have a spiritual interview.
The Huntington City Mission is affiliated with 300 other gospel rescue missions nationwide.
“If we don’t share the gospel, then it makes no difference to just feed and shelter,” Phil Rydman, the spokesman for the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, told the Daily Mail. “It doesn’t change a life just to feed a person a meal.”
Rydman believes the Huntington probe is unique, noting it comes as President Bush’s administration is giving federally funded charities more latitude to display emblems of their faith.
Duffield said when he saw Napier’s website he realized “why all these insane attempts to put a cork in the First Amendment rights of our pastor” are being done, the paper said.
Napier’s piece, which criticizes religious institutions for creating a culture that punishes non-traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity, includes a cartoon of the Bible’s three wise men in dresses with the caption, “You see! We’ve been around for a long, long time!”
The Daily Mail said Napier occasionally dresses in women’s clothes and performs as a drag queen under the stage name Miss Ilene Over.
Napier’s supervisor, Lind, insisted “there is nothing on his website that makes him look like he is prejudiced against religion.”