Nov 17, 2004

A bill providing public funds to refurbish California's mission churches violates the First Amendment and is certain to provoke a lawsuit, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Today the House of Representatives passed the California Missions Preservation Act (H.R. 1446), which provides $10 million to "restore and repair" 21 mission churches, 19 of which are owned by the Roman Catholic Church and have active congregations.

Americans United said the bill goes against basic constitutional principles.

"The Constitution clearly forbids government from funding religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "If the bill is signed into law, we plan to challenge it in court. Taxpayers should never be forced to maintain houses of worship."

Lynn testified earlier this year before a Senate committee considering the bill and today issued a letter to House members urging them to defeat the measure.

"In short, the California Missions Preservation Act would violate the First Amendment by forcing taxpayers nationwide to pay for church repairs, even repairs and restoration of facilities with active congregations," Lynn stated in the Nov. 17 letter.

The bill, which has already been approved by the Senate, states that the Secretary of Interior shall make grants to the California Missions Foundation to repair the missions and their artifacts. The measure now goes to the desk of President George W. Bush.

"We appreciate the important role that these missions play in California's history," Lynn said. "But they are not museums; they are houses of worship. The First Amendment protects taxpayers from having to support religion, and the California missions bill blatantly violates that principle."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in the safeguarding religious freedom.