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ACLU warns Tony Young not to use city resources for religious activities

September 27, 2010 - 4:36 pm

A few weeks back, during the whole “Life Walk” debacle, we noticed that San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and City Councilmember Tony Young were listed as official sponsors of “Praise Fest.”

It’s clearly a religious event—there’s a dazzling cross right there on the flyer. You can also take the event website‘s word for it:

The 3rd Annual San Diego Praise Fest is designed to provide the San Diego community with an opportunity to come together in praise and worship through various forms of gospel music and healthy cultural celebration.

Praise and worship. County records show Roberts steered a $2,500 county grant to Pastors on Point, the non-profit behind the event. However, Roberts’ staff told CityBeat that the grant was caught and cancelled after county attorneys realized its religious nature. As a result, Roberts’ name and logo were removed from the promotional materials.

Young is different story. A public-records request did not turn up a grant from the city to the event. CityBeat played phone tag with Young for a few weeks on this and were unable to connect.

What we can say is this: The District 4 Democrat is tied to it to such an extent that one of the fest’s three stages was named the “Councilman Tony Young Main Stage.” Further, days before the event, Young gave Praise Fest top billing on his official “Weekly Update” (download here).

We forwarded the email to David Blair-Loy, legal director at the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, to see if he thought Young’s promotion of Praise Fest was legal.

He didn’t.

On Friday, Blair-Loy sent a letter to Young (CC’ing City Attorney Jan Goldsmith), warning him that his actions may have violated the “No Aid Clause” in the California Constitution, which prohibits government resources from being used for religious purposes. Blair-Loy writes in the two-page letter (download here):

The ACLU strongly supports the right of individuals and private organizations to sponsor or participate in religious praise and worship. However, I am concerned that sponsorship of the Praise Fest in your official capacity as a city council member, using your official logo and linking to your official City website, as well as promoting the vent in an official flyer from your office with the City’s logo, implicated California law prohibiting governmental aid to religion.

Blair-Loy also says he’s concerned that Young’s support undermined the “No Preference Clause” in the California Constitution, which guarantees “free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference.” The letter did not threaten legal action, ending simply:

For these reasons, I ask you to refrain from sponsoring similar future events in your official capacity as a representative of the City. If you wish to sponsor such events, you may wish to consider doing so without using City logos or resources, solely in your capacity as an individual.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Darnell permalink
    September 28, 2010 - 9:56 pm 9:56 pm

    Greetings Dave,

    Although I find your article informative, I ask myself how much do you know “culturally” about the African American community. Gospel music is at the heart of the African American music culture and has been for some time. The San Diego Praise Fest event is an event to celebrate and unify a community. I guess you don’t live in this district or I am assuming that you don’t even care about the problems that is community have experience. But I guess from your vantage point and others who don’t share the culture or skin tone, you would look at the event from the prospective of “separation of church and state” as opposed to an event that councilman is standing behind to unite the community. A community that have been victim to senseless shootings, a community that has a “per capital” income that is lower than the average in San Diego. I appeal to you and other legalistic, look deeper than a cross on a flyer and with your power and influence, come to the table and offer your medium and your platform to help revitalize this community which is in “San Diego”.

    In closing, I am also involved in media, and the thing which get me is the lack of common sense in reporting. You may have a greater compelling story if you go to the source and find out the purpose of the event [investigative reporting], so that you can truly be fair and balanced. San Diego needs this because as a “San Diego Community”, if we are divided among ourselves, it doesn’t matter who we are….. [red, yellow, black or white] our community will not stand. Dave… “Do the right thing”..

    Love you brother.

  2. iantrowbridge permalink
    September 29, 2010 - 1:15 pm 1:15 pm

    Brother Darnell:

    ” who don’t share the culture or SKIN TONE”. Not a particularly subtle playing of the race card. The same card Caroline Smith played when she was CEO of the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation to justify her malfeasance.

    BTW reaching anyone In Tony Young’s office on any issue, particularly his chief of staff, Jimmy Slack, is virtually impossible. It would have added to the story if he had expressed his point of view.

  3. lifesworkent permalink
    September 29, 2010 - 3:58 pm 3:58 pm


    What exactly were you hoping to accomplish by bringing the involvement of Councilman Tony Young and County Supervisor Ron Roberts in this event to the attention of the ACLU? Was it your intent to cause the cancellation of this positive community festival? Or perhaps your intent was to stir up controversy and ill-will towards Young and Roberts. Either way, you failed miserably. People actually appreciate political figures who are involved in their communities. BTW, the ACLU didn’t exactly come down hard on Young. In fact, I doubt the ACLU would have spoken out at all had it not been for you shoving Young’s participation in this event in their face. In closing, the event was a success despite your attempts to sabotage it. The world needs more people interested in solving issues and less people like yourself who are looking to create controversies to exploit for financial gain. There are a ton of troublesome mis-uses of tax payer funds you could/should report on. Why try to place stumbling blocks in the way of people doing God’s work?

    • September 29, 2010 - 5:18 pm 5:18 pm

      Don’t be ridiculous. I have no problem with Praise Fest and had no agenda to get it cancelled or to sabotage it. I am glad it was a success.

      The issue is whether it is legal and constitutional for public funds and resources to be used for these purposes.

      • October 5, 2010 - 5:14 pm 5:14 pm

        Dave, keep reporting! Some of us “of color” folks in San Diego don’t like the misuse of city funds by “any or no color” public elected official and there are a lot of us who don’t like the way Young works or thinks either.

        Thanks Dave. Thank ACLU!

  4. realwatchmanofsd permalink
    October 1, 2010 - 4:31 pm 4:31 pm

    It’s really sad when people who have no idea of what is going on in a community attempt to get in the way of hard working individuals who’s only goal is to change the quality of life for others. I applaud Tony Young for getting behind the San Diego PraiseFest. When Darnell said this was not investigative reporting I totally agree. So you tried to get in touch with Tony Young and failed. That gave you a story right? Why didn’t you try to get in touch with the organizers of the event to find out what this event was about? This event carried so many resources for the community that it’s a shame more officials didn’t get behind it. It shouldn’t matter who throws the event. What matters is if it going to prosper the community, which it did. I say that would make it taxpayers money well spent. Is this not why we elected our officials, to make a difference in our communtiy? Intead of trying to pollute the waters by playing the religion card, your time could have been better spent volunteering. Oh wait, you don’t live in this community so you really don’t care about us or what we are attempting to do to save our community. Did you know that the PraiseFest promotes a Mentoring Program that strives to keep our children out of gangs and away from drugs? I can by your article that you didn’t.
    Next time “Do the research” and prehaps you will be able to write something useful to the community instead of trying to hold it back.

  5. iantrowbridge permalink
    October 1, 2010 - 5:33 pm 5:33 pm

    It’s really sad to read the whining comments about ” you don’t understand our community”. It is really simple as Dave said: The story was about the separation of church and state. I don’t criticize Tony Young for being involved since apparently he didn’t use taxpayer money, it is in fact his community. I do have a major problem with Ron Roberts trying to use public money from his slush fund to support a religious organization in violation of the law-likely to get the black bishops to preach for his reelection from the pulpit; another practice I find ungodly and inappropriate.

    Ron, of course, lives close to me in Mission Hills and certainly does not know your community any better than I do. It’s a community that ostracizes people with AIDS. It is a community is responsible for hundreds of deaths over the last two decades by forcing your own brothers and sisters to live in the shadows and then neglecting them when they get sick.

    Finally, try using your own names when you comment and take responsibility for what you write.

    • Darnell permalink
      October 2, 2010 - 11:42 am 11:42 am


      “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”, and it is clear to me where you stand and what you think about people (who do not look and talk like you). As a matter of fact, that is your right. However, despite your mentality, the truth is the mindset that “you belong to” is decreasing every day. Bless God that you don’t live in a community as YOU describe, that “ostracizes people with AIDS. A community responsible for hundreds of deaths over the last two decades by forcing your own brothers and sisters to live in the shadows and then neglecting them when they get sick” – you would have only been part of the problem. I also thank God for the “humanistic” thinking of Ron Roberts of ” wanting” to be part of something greater than himself, while others like you made it difficult for him.

      Ian, it’s your way of thinking that inspires me to serve and protect this country like I do, because, while you stand in the corner or on your platform being part of the problem, there are people who are the “opposite” of you that are being part of the solution, and that makes it worthwhile. So as I read your language and captured the expression of your thoughts, it serves a beacon for me that if there are people like you, there surely are people who opposite of you and the way you think. I am comforted that there are people who care about “PEOPLE” and not where they live. People who are being part of something bigger than themselves and part of a solution. An these people are a kaleidoscope of colors and “YOU CAN’T STOP IT.

      So Ian, keep being you… again … that is your right, but soon you will find that you will not find a place for yourself and your way of thinking. Thank you for being the inspiration for me and others to be part of something bigger than ourselves….

      God bless you brother Iantrowbridge.


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