May 2018 Church & State Magazine - May 2018

New Jersey Court Strikes Down Tax Aid To Houses Of Worship

  Rokia Hassanein

The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled April 18 that taxpayer money may not be spent for the repair and maintenance of houses of worship deemed historic.

Since 2012, Morris County has distributed more than $4.5 million in tax revenue to a dozen active churches through a program designed to aid historical preservation. These grants are in direct conflict with the Religious Aid Clause in New Jersey’s constitution, which says that no resident can be compelled to pay taxes for “building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship.”

Americans United, joined by American Civil Liberties of New Jersey and the national ACLU, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the lawsuit, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director, presented arguments before the New Jersey high court.

“The Religious Aid Clause has been a part of New Jersey’s history since the 1776 Constitution,” observed the court in the opinion. “The clause reflects a historic and substantial state interest. We find that the plain language of the Religious Aid Clause bars the use of taxpayer funds to repair and restore churches, and that Morris County’s program ran afoul of that longstanding provision.”

The lawsuit was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of New Jersey taxpayers.  

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