IFAS | Freedom Writer | November/December 1997 | fair.html

California taxpayers support
singing evangelist

By Jerry Sloan

Sacramento, California Carman, a kind of singing evangelist who heads Righteous Invasion of Truth (R.I.O.T.), was paid $30,000 from the California State Fair to appear as a headliner act in Sacramento last summer. The evangelical entertainer was the fea tured entertainment on August 19, 1997.

Carman was apparently booked as a result of marketing strategy developed by state and county fairs across the country, including the California State Fair and the Los Angeles County Fair, where spokespersons acknowledged that Carman had been booked for th eir events because they wanted to "market to a Christian audience." Carman also appeared in about a half-dozen other California county fairs.

Project Tocsin obtained documents which revealed that a group of over 200 mostly evangelical churches, including some of the most politically active churches in Northern California, formed a committee to co-sponsor a new observance called Family Fellowshi p Day, in addition to the regular ethnic days which have been popular for many years. The group originally wanted to call the event "Christian Day."

While fair officials did not allow the event to be called "Christian Day," they did allow several letters and press releases to go out touting "40 Christian acts," and opportunities in which the "Christian community" could participate. They advertised tha t discount tickets for the day could be purchased at local Bible book stores. The California State Fair web page on the Internet also promoted Carman's record and theme for his fall tour of Righteous Invasion of Truth, or R.I.O.T.

Besides paying the singing evangelist a hefty fee for his appearance, he was allowed to sell his "R.I.O.T. Gear," which ranged in price from $6 for military-style dog tags, to $300 for a R.I.O.T. jacket.

Other documents revealed that the Family Fellowship Day wanted to give an "altar call" at the end of Carman's concert. Fair officials forbade that, but did OK an announcement from the stage saying ministers were at certain places in the amphitheater and a vailable for "counseling."

When Project Tocsin and others objected to the Family Fellowship Day, California State Fair officials said they would make a stronger effort to include other religions in the 1998 event. They obviously missed the point entirely. Article 16, Section 5, of the California state constitution forbids such activity by government agencies. The article states, in part: "Neither the Legislature, nor any county, city and county, township, school district, or other municipal corporation, shall ever make an appropria tion, or pay from any public fund whatever, or grant anything to or aid of any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose..."

With more than 29,000 people in attendance that day, California State Fair officials claimed that Family Fellowship Day was a great success. Records show, however, that attendance was down, or on par, with the exception of 1996, when attendance was extrem ely low due to excessive heat.

Opponents of Family Fellowship Day say they will continue to fight to see the program dropped from the California State Fair lineup, even if they have to go to court.

Jerry Sloan is founding director of Project Tocsin of Sacramento, California.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.