May 2012 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Americans United has sent a letter to officials in Montgomery County, N.Y., asking that they not fund a Roman Catholic shrine.

The county, which is just outside Albany, voted to give $750 in taxpayer money to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, which describes itself as “a natural reliquary sanctified to the blood of the martyrs, a place of peace and reconciliation that the Auriesville saints procured.”

In a March 30 letter, AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and Madison Fellow Benjamin N. Hazelwood said the shrine is a place of worship. As such, the U.S. Constitution does not permit the government to fund it. The letter noted that even if the funding were somehow earmarked only for non-religious activities, the grant would still be unconstitutional.

“The federal courts have held that government funds cannot constitutionally be used to pay for items that are themselves secular but support religious activity,” the letter said.

The funding for the shrine is one of 18 grants made through the county’s Local Tourism Grant Program.

At press time, county officials had not formally responded to AU’s complaint.