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OKC City Council under fire from ACLU

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The legal director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says Oklahoma City could find themselves in a disastrous situation if they're not careful planning a new senior wellness center.

At the heart of the controversy is the proposed location and who the city plans to buy it from. The ACLU says it could be a violation of separation of church and state.

The city council has already voted to enter into planning and negotiations with Putnam City Baptist Church for the wellness center.

There are four senior wellness centers planned under MAPS 3. The land is part of the church's campus at N.W. 114th and Rockwell.

"We don't mind giving up that piece of property. You know, we think it's a good use for it," said church member, Bill Fleming.

Fleming says the church is currently working on a master plan for their unused land.

They realized that because of separation of church and state that the church could not be in charge of the wellness center, so they formed a secular, non-profit called Health Living & Fitness, Incorporated to be over the center.

"We think the proposal we put forth is a fantastic proposal and could really help change the lifestyles and habits of the citizens of Oklahoma City," said Fleming.

But one part of the proposal the ACLU says could be flawed is that the church would be able to lease the building from Health Living & Fitness, Inc. outside of the operating hours of the wellness center.

"Public money is given away for private church functions in ways that are not appropriate legally and frankly are unnecessary to the proposal itself," said Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU of Oklahoma. "They essentially get the taxpayers to build them about an $8 million building that they then don't have to pay for through donations from their own congregation."

Members of the city council say the planning and negotiating process for the wellness center could take several months.

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