Churches in Massachusetts can receive taxpayer money in some circumstances, but not for projects that support their core religious activities, the state’s highest court ruled. This is the statement from the Massachusetts constitution which says that “no such grant, appropriation or use of public money… shall be made or authorized for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.” From this statement it is clear that no public money can be used to fund private religion.
And yet, several years ago, the town of Acton gave out grants totaling more than $100,000 to some local churches for the reparation, and this grants were legally challenged ever since. In 2016, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against Acton officials who promoted religion with taxpayer money by approving this grants.
“Government should not use tax funds to support churches,” said Barry W. Lynn, former executive director of Americans United. “The fact that a house of worship is old doesn’t mean taxpayers should be forced to subsidize a religious group to which they don’t belong. If a church needs money to preserve or restore its buildings, it should raise that money from its own members.”
In 2016, a judge ruled in favor of Acton officials with an argument that the funds were used for historical preservation, not for religious promotion, and therefore they are legal. Eric Rothschild, senior litigation counsel with Americans United, said “Americans United and our clients feel very strongly that Acton’s grants to the churches violates the constitutional prohibition against using public money for maintaining or aiding any churches”. The American United appealed the decision and after a long time the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court correctly reversed that earlier ruling.
“Today is a good day for religious freedom in Massachusetts,” said Rachel Laser, executive director of Americans United. “Money taken from the taxes of all citizens should go to funding projects for the public good, not religious imagery in houses of worship.”
Giving taxpayer money to churches for the purpose of aiding them is against the Massachusetts constitution, because repairing and renovating the buildings that churches use for religious cause advances that very same religious cause. On the other hand, SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said in his 47-page opinion that the state constitution has no absolute ban on churches receiving public funds. Gants said public funds can lawfully go to churches for historic preservation in certain cases, such as when “historical events of great significance occurred in the church, or where the grants are limited to preserving church property with a primarily secular purpose.”
Photo Credits: Secular Coalition for Arizona