Chili Cook-Off gets testy

Group claims city of Roseville is inappropriately sponsoring event
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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The local chapter of the national Freedom From Religion Foundation claims the city of Roseville has violated the U.S. Constitution by allegedly promoting a Christian evangelical group through the Celebrity Chili Cook-Off scheduled for March 15.

But the city says it is not a promoter or co-sponsor of the cook-off or the religious organization the event benefits.

Proceeds from the second-annual event benefit the Coalition for Placer Youth and Campus Life, a ministry that “seeks to engage … young people wherever they are found as lifelong followers of Jesus Christ,” according to its website. The event will take place at the city-owned Maidu Community Center.

In a letter sent Feb. 26 to Mayor Susan Rohan, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation states that a city “apparently co-sponsoring a fundraiser that benefits a Christian ministry constitutes government endorsement of religion and alienates those Roseville residents who are not Christian or non-religious.”

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article XVI of the California Constitution prohibit such government involvement, according to attorney Elizabeth Cavell.

Cavell’s letter draws attention to an email sent by a city employee that seemed to promote the event. That coupled with the fact the cook-off is being held on city property “gives the appearance that this event is co-sponsored by the city of Roseville,” according to Cavell.

In a letter dated March 5 to the foundation, Assistant City Manager Rob Jensen acknowledged the email as an inappropriate error made by one employee.

“Although the event’s title includes ‘Roseville’ and the event will be held at a city facility, it is indeed a private event and is not sponsored by the city,” Jensen wrote. “The event coordinator was required to follow the city’s usual process for renting space and did not receive any unique discounts, preferential treatment or special terms.”