According to documentation acquired through a public records request (see end of article), sometime before April 26, 2010, Sheriff Morgan attended a Men's Barn Meeting (MBM) and suggested that the group apply for funding through the county's Law Enforcement Trust Fund. Again, in April 2014, while Sheriff Morgan and James P. Porter, MBM president, spoke at the National Rifle Association meeting in Indianapolis, it was Sheriff Morgan who suggested that Porter again apply for Law Enforcement Trust Fund money.
Let's be clear once again: the religious beliefs of Sheriff Morgan and the Men's Barn Meeting are not in question here. The violation of the constitutional separation of church and state, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment's Establishment Clause (1789) and in Article VI (1787) outlawing religious tests for holding office is the issue.
According to its Articles of Incorporation filed with Florida's Secretary of State, Men's Barn Meeting is a "corporation...organized for religious, educational and charitable purposes." According to its 2008 Form 990 filed with the federal Internal Revenue Service, Men's Barn Meeting described itself as a "church, convention of churches, or association of churches..." In its 2010 Form 990, James Porter responded to the question, "What is the organization's primary exempt purpose?," with "Promote Christian fellowship to men in Northwest Florida."
Second, I would argue that not only is the Men's Barn Meeting a "church" that "promotes Christian fellowship," a violation of the separation of church and state, but that the organization is not eligible to receive funding from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.
According to Florida statute XLVII, Chapter 932, Section 932.755, part (5)(c)1, Law Enforcement Trust Funds "may be used only for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education, or drug prevention programs." The governing statute says nothing about "promoting Christian fellowship."
Sheriff Morgan Initiates the First Request for Funding
The earliest dated piece of information leading to the issuance of the $2500 Law Enforcement Trust Fund check (10001312) on July 25, 2011, is the April 26, 2010, "LET DONATION REQUEST FORM" for funds requested by Sheriff Morgan. On July 22, 2011, Finance, Administration, and the Sheriff approved the request.
Below the April 26, 2010, LET form, is an undated request letter sent from "Jim Porter, President, Men's Barn Meeting" to Sheriff Morgan. The letter begins, "I want to thank you again for honoring us with your attendance at our last Men's Barn Meeting."
The letter states at the start of the third paragraph, "Sheriff Morgan, you mentioned that you would need a copy of our 501 C-3 status letter in order to consider us for any donation....Any donation would be greatly appreciated."
Notice that the president of Men's Barn Meeting is not initiating the request for funds. That initiation apparently came while Sheriff Morgan was enjoying the Christian fellowship with fellow Christians. Second, the president of the Men's Barn Meeting does not request a specific amount of funding. Sheriff Morgan apparently requested the specific amount of $2500. And, notice that the president of the Men's Barn Meeting did not state that the funds would be used for any purpose consistent with the Florida statute governing the disbursement of Law Enforcement Trust Funds. On the contrary, Mr. Porter's letter states that the monthly speakers "have shared their stories and challenged the men attending to put their faith and trust in the Lord and let Him change their lives." In fact, the first $2500 check is not even accompanied by an Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund application.
The first donation thus appears to have been initiated and managed solely by Sheriff Morgan.
Furthermore, Mr. Porter made a misleading, if not false statement, in his letter to Sheriff Morgan. Porter claimed, "We are not sponsored by any one church..." That may be true that it is not "sponsored by any one church," but it fails to mention that in its declaration to the federal Internal Revenue Service that it was a "church, convention of churches, or association of churches."
In fact, according to its Articles of Incorporation filed with Florida's Secretary of State, it could only be a church. Mr. Porter wrote that the Men's Barn Meeting, Inc. was a "corporation...organized for religious...purposes."
One can quibble about whether or not it is a church, but a later section will show that the Men's Barn Meeting draws high-level Baptist and Christian Right speakers from outside Florida--suggesting that it is linked into the Baptist network.
Sheriff Morgan Initiates the Second Request for Funding
On February 9, 2015, Sheriff Morgan released another $2500 donation to the Men's Barn Meeting using voucher number V3352.
This time the Men's Barn Meeting's request for funds is accompanied by a Law Enforcement Trust Fund application in which Mr. Porter checked the blocks for "crime prevention," "drug prevention," "safe neighborhood," and "other consideration." Seriously? Giving away a free steak dinner and having men "put their faith and trust in the Lord" counts as complying with the Florida statute?
Mr. Porter also signed his name to the document which included the statement: "As required by Florida law, the requested funds will be used for the purpose specified above, and no other purpose." How is that even possible when the purpose is to bring men to Jesus? We shall return to this question in a later section considering how the Men's Barn Meeting is marketed by local area churches and the Porter family themselves.
It is clear that Sheriff Morgan apparently initiated the request for funds while both he and Mr. Porter were attending the National Rifle Association's annual convention in April 2014 which drew 70,000 people to Indianapolis.
According to a fax Mr. Porter sent on December 1, 2014, to "David Morgan" (using the familiar) and Judy in the Sheriff's Office, Mr. Porter wrote, "When I met him at the NRA banquet earlier this year, he said to get in touch with him at his office and remind him about making another donation." Mr. Porter reminded Judy that "we" (meaning Mr. Porter and Judy) had spoke a "few weeks ago," and that he was "resending the fax I sent back in 2011 (nothing has changed since then but I did resign and redate the form." Mr. Porter continued, "Do I need to mail in an original of [sic] is this sufficient?"
In other words, at the National Rifle Association meeting, Sheriff Morgan and Mr. Porter met and the good Sheriff asked Mr. Porter to "remind him about making another donation." Mr. Porter was obviously confused by the necessity of sending in a formal application when the Sheriff obviously asked him to be reminded to send another unsolicited donation.
The Marketing of the Men's Barn Meeting
I suggested above that the Men's Barn Meeting was a "church." That is basically how the Porter families describes their two entities, Men's Barn Meeting and Trophies of Grace.
For example, on the Twitter page for Men's Barn Meeting, the father, Mr. Jim Porter described himself thusly: "College of NJ '65; Naval Aviator '65-'73; Real Est. Bkr 40 yrs.; Pres. Men's Barn Meeting & Trophies of Grace, Ministries; Married; 5 children 12 grandchildren."
What does the word "ministry" mean? Basically, it means the "service, function, or profession of a minister of religion."
Here is how Mr. Scott Porter and Mr. Mark Porter (brothers) described their family's work on the Trophies of Grace website: "The Men's Barn Meeting and Trophies of Grace ministries are a team effort as well as a family ministry....With Trophies of Grace now taking the Men's Barn Meeting on the road, they enjoy meeting other Christian sportsmen who share a love of God's creation and a desire to see souls saved."
Nowhere in that statement is there anything about "crime prevention," "drug prevention," or "safe neighborhood." It is about "seeing souls saved."
What exactly is going on with Trophies of Grace, which is merely the act of taking "Men's Barn Meeting on the road"? It is a full-service ministry.
According to the Porter family on the same webpage: "Trophies of Grace is a complete program tailored to assist your outreach ministry....We provide a complete promotional package, including flyers, posters and a step-by-step instructional guide to help insure a successful experience at your church. We can provide the entire program, including music and a speaker, or you can provide the music and/or speaker."
Here is how the Porters describe Trophies of Grace on the "Purpose" page of the website: "Trophies of Grace exists to glorify God by serving and partnering with pastors and local churches in their outreach ministries, specifically to reach people who are interested in hunting and fishing....our goal is to deliver an interesting, enthusiastic, and clear evangelical message that will inspire Christians and present a salvation opportunity to those who are lost. Following the event, Trophies of Grace will provide a list of names and contact information of those in attendance, as well as information on those who responded to the message. The local church can then follow up with these individuals and encourage them in their Christian life."
If that is the purpose of the Trophies of Grace, which is merely putting the Men's Barn Meeting on the road, there is not one word that qualifies the Men's Barn Meeting for Law Enforcement Trust Funds.
How do local churches market the Men's Barn Meeting to their congregants? There is not one word about "drug prevention," "crime prevention," or "safe neighborhood." Some churches just list the meeting date, time, and place.
The Marcus Pointe Baptist Church, the home church of Mr. Mark Porter, issued this invitation on its website: "The Men’s Barn Meeting is a place for men to come together, share a meal, fellowship, hear great music and a message from a special speaker. We meet in a barn in the woods with a beautiful lakeside view. Meetings are ‘open to the public,’ we welcome all men and boys to come experience The Men’s Barn Meeting."
The First United Methodist Church in Pace's advertisement is quite straightforward: "YOU are invited to attend the Men’s Barn Meeting held the second Thursday of each month. We meet at FUMC Pace by 5:40 p.m. and congregate by the church vans. Free steak dinner and great speakers. We hope to see you there!"
Dr. Ted Traylor, the lead pastor of Olive Baptist Church and a speaker at the Men's Barn Meeting, exclaimed on his church's website: "Last night I had a marvelous experience at the Men’s Barn Meeting in Molino. Seven years ago a few men started this ministry. Their vision was to reach men with the Gospel. They meet the second Thursday of each month. A free steak dinner is served and it is a first class meal. The setting is rustic. The big barn is located next to a beautiful lake. I was invited last night to preach to a packed house. Several men prayed to receive Christ. I encourage any man to make the trip to the north end of the county for this event. It is the real deal. Check it out and learn more..."
With the exception of mentioning "saving souls," there is nothing to indicate that the purpose of the Men's Barn Meeting is "crime prevention," "drug prevention," or "safe neighborhood."
Only Sheriff Morgan knows why the Men's Barn Meeting qualifies for Law Enforcement Trust Funds.
Men's Barn Meeting and the Christian Right
I went through the Men's Barn Meeting list of speakers from July 13, 2006 through February 12, 2015. With the exception of one pastor associated with the Assembly of God, actually the director of the men's and women's center for Teen Challenge International in Pensacola, every identified pastor was from a Baptist church and the real heavyweight speakers came either from the Southern Baptist Convention or the Christian Right's Council for National Policy.
In other words, the Men's Barn Meeting apparently serves as a critical communications and networking hub in northwest Florida, especially in Escambia County. And, that suggests that Sheriff Morgan's donations to the Men's Barn Meeting, in addition to demonstrating an ideological and/or theological affinity with the Men's Barns Meeting group, is not so subtly cultivating political support from the network of Baptist churches who attend and promote the MBM.
These churches include, in addition to those who advertise the meeting: the Gulf Coast Baptist Church, with its former interim pastor (June 14, 2007); Pastor Irvin Stallworth of the New Life Baptist Church in Century (October 11, 2007); Pastor Ron Lentine of the Myrtle Grove Baptist Church (January 10, 2008); Les Zerbe, an "aviation missionary" that connects "fundamental Baptist and remote ministry locations" in Alaska (February 14, 2008); Paul Ezelle, the volunteer director at the Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama (January 8, 2009); Chris McDaniel, the worship pastor at the Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, Georgia (February 12, 2009); Pastor Ralph Flowers of the Regency Baptist Temple in Jacksonville, Florida (March 12, 2009); Marty Sikes, staff evangelist at the First Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas (June 11, 2009); Pastor Nathan Brown of Ray's Chapel Baptist Church in McDavid, Florida (September 10, 2009); Dr. Ted Traylor of the Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola (January 14, 2010); Pastor John Gardner, president of Amazing Grace Mission, a "soul winning Independent Fundamental Baptist Mission (May 13, 2010); Mike Dimmick, director of adult ministries at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola (October 14, 2010); Senior Pastor Gordon Godfrey, Marcus Pointe Baptist Church in Pensacola (March 10, 2011); Pastor Derek Farr of the Heritage Baptist Church in Roanoke, Alabama (April 14, 2011, and, May 9, 2013); Senior Pastor Carl Gallups, Hickory Hammock Baptist Church in Milton, Florida, a "popular Tea Party speaker and...leadoff speaker at the Daytona Beach Florida State Tea Party Convention in November 2011," as well as being a "Book 'Birther' Expert" and the interviewer who compelled former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack to believe in the birther conspiracy theory (May 10, 2012); Senior Pastor Tim Coleman, Point Baptist Church in Pensacola (November 8, 2012); Dr. Jason Watford, vice president of Bethel Baptist College and pastor of Springs Creek Baptist Church in Seven Springs, North Carolina (July 11, 2013); Mr. Mac Heavener, president and CEO of the Trinity Baptist College in Jacksonville, Florida (October 10, 2013); and, Pastor Lonnie Lundy, pastor of evangelism at Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama (February 13, 2014).
The Men's Barn Meeting has also featured top leaders from the Baptist faith and the Christian Right: Dr. Wendell Kempton, president emeritus of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (September 13, 2007); Pastor Bailey Smith, a "great evangelist" according to the late Jerry Falwell, and the past president simultaneously of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, former president of the Pastor's Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention, and representative for the Southern Baptist Convention to the Baptist World Alliance (May 12, 2011); Mr. Paige Patterson, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (September 13, 2012); and, Mr. Bob Reccord, then executive director of the Christian Right's Council for National Policy, former head of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has the "largest budget" of its "most popular agency," and was one of about 35 to 80 top Christian Right leaders to caucus to influence behind the scenes to defeat President Obama's agenda in 2010 and 2011 (March 14, 2013).
Sheriff Morgan's use of the Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund to make donations to the Men's Barn Meeting is a clear violation of the First Amendment's separation of church and state. The Men's Barn Meeting is obviously an organization that serves to recruit men who would not ordinarily attend church using the allure of looking at dead deer heads and a free steak to "come to Christ."
There is nothing wrong with that purpose--it just should not be subsidized with public funds. The Law Enforcement Trust Fund money is regulated by Florida statute to fund efforts to prevent crime, prevent drug use, and increase neighborhood safety. That is not even remotely the mission of the Men's Barn Meeting.
It is also clear that the secondary purpose of the Men's Barn Meeting is to serve as a communications and networking hub for the local Baptist churches. That is evident by the number and frequency of Baptist church pastors serving as keynote speakers at the monthly "free steak dinner" gatherings.
The third apparent function of the Men's Barn Meeting is to serve as a communications and networking hub for the Southern Baptist Convention and the Christian Right. It is difficult to believe that Pastor Bailey Smith, Mr. Paige Patterson, and Mr. Bob Reccord, all power brokers inside the Christian Right by virtue of their past positions as presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention and/or the Council for National Policy came solely for the fellowship and not the political connections being developed in Escambia County via the Men's Barn Meeting.
For example, Dr. Ted Traylor was an early endorser and proponent of the "Pray for Pensacola" coalition; and, Dr. Traylor is among the elite of Baptist ministers engaged in a current strategic plan, "Engage Florida," which is the next phase of the "ReVision Florida" strategic plan to create a "resurgence" of "grassroots" "spiritual renewal" which always means mobilizing Baptists for political warfare.
Sheriff Morgan's initiation of two $2500 donations to the Men's Barn Meeting may appear benign--just helping out fellow conservative Christian men to come to come to Christ--but it also appears that he is using the Law Enforcement Trust Fund as a political slush fund to gather support for his re-election campaign.
Documentation for the 2011 Men's Barn Meeting Donation
Documentation for the 2015 Men's Barn Meeting Donation