April 2019 Church & State Magazine - April 2019

Supreme Court Won’t Hear New Jersey Tax Aid Case

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court announced March 4 that it will not review a New Jersey Supreme Court decision holding that taxpayer dollars cannot be used to fund the restoration or repair of houses of worship.

Although the court’s decision not to hear the case is a win for church-state separation, there may be trouble on the horizon. Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a statement asserting that the court should revisit the issue in the future.

New Jersey’s constitution prohibits public money from being used for, among other things, building or repairing churches or places of worship. Despite this language, a county in New Jersey had awarded more than $4 million in historic-preservation grants to Christian churches over the course of a few years. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued and won when the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the grants violated the state constitution’s no-aid clause.

Americans United filed an amicus brief in the Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders case, and AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser presented oral argument before the New Jersey Supreme Court in support of New Jersey taxpayers who objected to their tax dollars being used to fund houses of worship.

The ruling of the New Jersey Supreme Court will stand for now, but Kavanaugh made it clear he wants to reopen the issue at some point.

Kavanaugh wrote that, eventually, the court will have to decide whether the government can deny historical preservation funds to religious organizations “simply because the organizations are religious.” He was joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito and Neil Gorsuch in arguing that denying such public aid “would raise serious questions under this Court’s precedents and the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee of equality.”

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