West Linn embroiled in church vs. state fight over teen center

West Linn embroiled in church vs. state fight over teen center »Play Video
A photo of the inside of the Summit facility at the Willamette Christian Church.(KATU image)

WEST LINN, Ore. – Fireworks have erupted among West Linn City Councilors as they fight about whether the city should support an after-school teen center.

The new teen center is run by a church and a national organization says the city violated the U.S. Constitution by giving the church money.

The Grand Summit opens next week, and it will be a place for kids after school. The city of West Linn gave a $1,300 grant to nearby Willamette Christian Church to help run the center with the YMCA.

But the city had to ask for the money back after the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Wisconsin said the grant entangles the government with religion because the teen center isn’t The Summit’s primary purpose.

“Twice as much time for church-related activities as for teen center activities, and it was only open two hours every weekday for the general public and the rest of the time it was dedicated to the church," said Andrew Seidel, an attorney with Freedom from Religion Foundation, by phone.

"The idea that Willamette Christian Church is trying to exercise some undue influence, or do something that has been different across cities, across states across America, is odd to me." Chris Yarco with the church told KATU News.

The foundation says the city of West Linn is also in the wrong because city employees are on the board overseeing the center.

The situation got heated at a council meeting Tuesday night when Councilor Teri Cummings complained Councilor Mike Jones was a member of the church and voted to approve funding.

Jones said he is a recent new member of the church and was not a member when he voted on the funds in August.

West Linn officials now say the legal costs of fighting to keep the funding in place are not worth the cost and the church has returned the funds.