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Look cityward, evangels, for dough

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The city of Little Rock is negotiating a contract with the Union Rescue Mission to run its outpost for the homeless on Confederate Boulevard, apparently unbothered by the organization's hiring requirements: Only members of "evangelical Christian churches" may apply for the day center jobs, which will be paid with taxpayer dollars.

It's perfectly legal, City Attorney Tom Carpenter says, as long as the Christians — not social-working Jews, mind you, atheists or maybe even Episcopalians — don't proselytize at work. However, the city is still researching the law to make sure the contract doesn't violate the First Amendment's separation of church and state to guard against liability, Assistant City Attorney Kim Chavis said.

Homeless advocate Robert Johnston notes that the evangelical group sought applicants from the job in November for people who'd be hired contingent on getting the city business. The announcement said these things are required of applicants: "Personal commitment to Jesus Christ and lives under the authority of Scripture"; "Professional and personal life reflects integrity, personal responsibility and Christian character"; "A servant's heart and compassion for those who are lost, and are hurting yet not an enabler"; "Willing to sign the Union Rescue Mission's Statement of Faith"; "A current member or regular attendee of a local evangelical Christian church"; and "Able to fully support the core values and philosophy of ministry held by URM."

Union Rescue Mission Director William Tollette said Tuesday the advertisement's use of the word "evangelical" should be interpreted as simply Christian.

Couldn't the city hire non-believers to work with the homeless? Rent a building without providing sweetheart payola to a community group? Carpenter said the city sometimes needs to contract services it can't provide, and compared the Union Rescue Mission contract to others the city has entered into with religious groups in its Prevention, Intervention, Treatment programs.

The building that will house the day resource center, which the Union Rescue Mission shucked so it could move to better quarters across the street, has been undergoing repairs since September 2011.

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