The Massachusetts Constitution is very clear on the question of tax funding of religious institutions: It isn’t permitted.
The state charter holds that no “grant, appropriation or use of public money” shall be made to any “religious undertaking.” It also bars the use of tax aid “for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.”
Nowhere in that document is there an asterisk stating that these rules don’t apply in the case of a house of worship that happens to be old.
Yet Massachusetts has a law called the Community Preservation Act that some towns are using to funnel tax aid to churches deemed historic. In the town of Acton, one church wants to use the money to restore a stained-glass window depicting Jesus Christ. Officials at the church admit that they are seeking government funding for building work so they can save their own funds for religious programming.
Another church wants a new roof, courtesy of the taxpayers.
Bear in mind that these churches are not owned by the town or operated as historic sites or museums. They have active congregations that meet regularly for worship.
Americans United is representing local taxpayers in court in a legal challenge to this funding. Unfortunately, a state court ruled against us recently and upheld the grants. That ruling will be appealed.
Historic preservation is a worthy goal. But in the case of houses of worship, it’s one that must be met with privately raised funds. No taxpayer should be compelled to prop up someone else’s place of worship – even if that worship takes place in an old building or one that has interesting architecture.
In a perfect world, houses of worship would never seek taxpayer aid for any reason. Religion has flourished in the United States thanks to the voluntary principle – the idea that all religious institutions must rely on donations given freely to survive.
Hundreds of years ago, Massachusetts had an established church that everyone was compelled to support, whether they belonged to it or not. That system withered away a long time ago. It shouldn’t be brought back in a modern guise.