KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A non-profit group focused on separation of church and state has issued a letter to Knoxville leaders, urging them to rescind the proposed $2 million contribution to Emerald Youth Foundation for a sports complex in the Lonsdale neighborhood.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation says the city’s proposal to donate 10 acres of land along with streetscaping and other items would be a violation of both the United States and Tennessee constitutions. The group says the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment “prohibits the government from financially supporting churches.” They also point out the Tennessee Constitution contains similar language.More online:Read the full letter [PDF}

The facility would include indoor and outdoor sports facilities, an assembly room for gatherings, and a worship and performing arts area. FFRF says because Emerald Youth Foundations describes itself as a Christian, urban youth ministry and that its sports program states that its mission is to “mobilize athletes to become Christian leaders,” the city of Knoxville participating in the project would send the message that it’s compelling taxpayers to support Emerald Youth’s ministry and that they endorse their religious message.

FFRF suggested that either Emerald Youth Foundation fund the project by themselves and pay for the land at a fair market value, or that the city partner with a secular organization.

“Municipal bodies can easily embark on worthy initiatives without jeopardizing the Constitution,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “There are organizations available to partner for such ventures that do not seek to impose their beliefs.”Previous story:Emerald Youth Foundation, city of Knoxville announce plans for Lonsdale youth sports complex

The proposed complex would sit on 10 acres of land along Texas Avenue, currently owned by the city. The project was officially announced last week and if approved by Knoxville City Council, would be expected to open in 2018.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s office issued a statement responding to Freedom From Religion Foundation’s claim, saying they regularly partner with faith-based organizations:

The City has received the letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and we understand their concerns. The City regularly partners with faith-based organizations. We’ll continue to gather community feedback as details are worked out on this proposal from Emerald Youth Foundation. Any agreement that is finalized with EYF will be fully within the requirements for separation of church and state.