November 2016 Church & State - November 2016

Mass. Court Says OK To Program Of Tax Aid For Churches

  AU admin

A Massachusetts court in Sep­tember declined to freeze taxpayer funds intended for the repair of two old churches in Acton.

Americans United in July filed a lawsuit challenging three awards of taxpayer money to houses of worship to pay for renovations and upkeep. These awards were made under the state Community Preservation Act (CPA). The idea behind the CPA is to ensure that historic properties are maintained. AU argues that while historic preservation is a worthy goal, the program goes too far by directing taxpayer support to religion.

Under the CPA, a number of houses of worship in the Bay State are receiving taxpayer subsidies even though they are active faith communities with congregations and regular programs of religious outreach.

Unfortunately, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Leila Kern denied Americans United’s request for a preliminary injunction that sought to stop the town of Acton from giving public support to two churches.

Massachusetts’ Constitution is clear on the issue of tax money for sectarian purposes. The state’s “anti-aid” amendment states in part, “No grant, appropriation or use of public money … 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 … and no such grant, appropriation or use of public money … shall be made or authorized for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.”

In the legal case, which AU filed on behalf of 13 local residents, its lawyers asserted, “The Anti-Aid Amend­ment to the Massachusetts Constitution protects the religious liberty of all citizens of the Commonwealth by prohibiting the use of public funds to support active houses of worship. Defendant Town of Acton is threatening that religious liberty.” (See “Massachusetts Mistake,” Sep­tember 2016 Church & State.)

Acton Congregational Church, one of the houses of worship that sought tax support under the program, acknowledged in its application that it needs help because it can’t afford to pay for the renovations itself without cutting religious programming. One thing the church wants to do with the money is restore a large stained-glass window depicting Jesus Christ.

Americans United will appeal the decision in Caplan v. Town of Acton.


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