FLORENCE — Mayor Steve Holt said Wednesday the city does not plan to rescind the $38,250 it provided to the Salvation Army to assist with construction of a shelter for homeless residents.

The city's stance is in response to a June 12 letter to Holt from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that claims the city may not use its resources to assist "religious ministry projects."

In February, the City Council voted to provide a $38,250 match for a grant of the same amount from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

The grant and the city's match, along with money from the Salvation Army, will be used to fund the $165,221 project.

Holt said the city considers the grant match a contract with the nonprofit Salvation Army to perform a service to Florence.

"They are a 501(c)(3) and we could have done this with a church or anyone else," he said. "If an agency is able to perform a service we normally aren't able to provide, we'll look at it.

"I'm sure the Freedom From Religion group has their opinion and we have ours also, and that is that we're federally protected to do something like this."

A representative with Freedom From Religion said the organization is awaiting an official response from the city before commenting.

In addition to a shelter that would be open 365 days a year, the project would include a day center where job skills and GED classes could be taught two days a week.

The shelter would be constructed at the Salvation Army's building on Huntsville Road in East Florence.

Holt said this is the type of program that helps homeless residents avoid stifling weather like the triple-digit heat indexes the Shoals has experienced this week.

"We have the right to contract with whomever we deem necessary that can provide a service for us, and that's what we're doing," he said. "This has been through the City Council. It was approved unanimously. We know what we're doing."

Foundation staff attorney Ryan D. Jayne stated in the letter to Holt that the Salvation Army "is a church denomination with an evangelical mission. The Salvation Army's website includes a set of 'position statements' on various political and social issues, all which reference biblical scripture."

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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