Americans United for Separation of Church and State today warned the South Bend (Ind.) Common Council that its plan to use public funds to support a religious school is unconstitutional.
The council has approved the purchase of property valued at $1.2 million that it will donate to St. Joseph’s High School. The Catholic high school will use the new building for religious education and sectarian activities.
“St. Joseph’s is a private school, and taxpayers should not be required to support it,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Religious schools should rely on donations from the faithful, not subsidies from the government.”
In a letter sent today to the president and vice president of the council, AU said the transaction violates the U.S. Constitution and church-state separation.
“The federal Constitution plainly forbids the government from donating valuable property to a religious organization for unrestricted use,” the letter asserts.
Americans United had also sent a letter to the council in June, prior to the vote on the transaction. The council approved the transaction any way, claiming the plan is constitutional because city residents will be able to use the facilities when they are not in use by St. Joseph’s students.
AU notes the public’s minimal benefit from the transaction does not excuse the constitutional violation.
Americans United asks that the council abandon the transaction and allow St. Joseph’s to purchase this property on the private market. If the city purchases the land, it should be sold at fair market value to the highest bidder.
Americans United has requested a response from the council within 14 days.
AU’s letter was drafted by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, AU Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.
Americans United 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 safeguarding religious freedom.