Jun 27, 2013

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has warned officials in Massachusetts that they must stop allowing communities to use taxpayer money to renovate houses of worship.

Earlier this year, Americans United received several complaints that Massachusetts municipalities were using funds under the Community Preservation Act to repair churches. This practice, Americans United asserts, violates both the U.S. and Massachusetts constitutions.

“Houses of worship should be supported by the men and women sitting in the pews, not the taxpayers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Coerced support for religion goes against basic constitutional principles.”

Ron Madnick, president of Americans United’s Massachusetts Chapter, agreed.

“In America,” Madnick observed, “everyone is free to contribute to the house of worship of their choice or to decline to support them at all. Massachusetts officials shouldn’t presume to make that decision for us.”

In an April letter to officials at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser cited several examples of tax money being awarded to houses of worship.

Among them were the First Parish Church of Cohasset, which received $65,000 to restore its windows and three churches in Monson – one Catholic, one Methodist and one Unitarian Universalist – which received grants totaling $317,000 for things such as steeple renovations, interior work and repair of structural damage.

The churches in question have active congregations and regularly hold worship services.

Massachusetts officials did not respond to AU’s April letter. Today, the organization sent a follow-up letter to the officials requesting a response within 14 days.

“This is a serious and ongoing problem on a large scale, and deserves your prompt attention,” observes the letter.

The letter also notes that yet another church has received tax funding. Officials in Acton approved two grants totaling $45,000 to the West Acton Baptist Church.

Americans United points out that a provision of the Massachusetts Constitution clearly states that tax money may not be used for religious purposes.

The provision reads, “No grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of credit shall be made or authorized by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any infirmary, hospital, institution, primary or secondary school, or charitable or religious undertaking which is not publicly owned and under the exclusive control, order and supervision of public officers or public agents authorized by the Commonwealth or federal authority or both…and no such grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of public credit shall be made or authorized for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.”