June 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Officials at a Catholic shrine in New York have turned down an offer of tax funding after Americans United objected to the grant.

In late March, Americans United received a complaint from Montgomery County, N.Y., concerning the Board of Supervisors’ plan to give a $750 grant to the religious site in Fultonville. The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is dedicated to Kateri Tekakwitha, a member of the Mohawk tribe who converted to Catholicism in the 17th century. 

Tekakwitha has been declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI and will be officially canonized on Oct. 21. The shrine is planning a number of events to mark the occasion, and they’re all religious in nature. For example, several Catholic masses and a special service seeking healing for the sick will be held.

The religious nature of the shrine isn’t in doubt. Its website is full of religious references and outlines in great detail the religious activities that will take place during the canonization ceremony.

Americans United pointed out that tax funds could not underwrite these religious events. AU’s attorneys asked that the grant be cancelled.

The supervisors did not react well to Americans United’s letter. In fact, according to the Schenectady Daily Gazette, Board Chairman Shayne Walters vowed to award the funds and said of AU, “They can go fly a kite.”

In an attempt to resolve the matter, board member Jeff Stark proposed modifying the grant to make it clear that only secular activities could be funded. AU noted that would not solve the problem because there aren’t any secular activities at the shrine.

In light of the controversy, the shrine decided to turn down the grant.

Staffer Beth Lynch told a local newspaper, “We did not initially turn down the grant, but we can’t sign the addendum. We can’t sign anything with those conditions. We’re not a secular organization. We are who we are, and we’re not going to compromise, dilute or disintegrate that.”