Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

Like many states, Massachusetts’ Constitution contains clear language prohibiting the use of taxpayer money to fund churches or other religious institutions. Such provisions allow states to maintain a robust separation of church and state to help protect everyone’s religious liberty.

In litigation filed earlier this year by Americans United, however, a Massachusetts court has declined to issue an injunction halting funds awarded to houses of worship for renovations and maintenance under the state’s Community Preservation Act (CPA). 

An AU blog post explains why the group’s stance:

The idea behind the CPA is to ensure that historic properties are maintained. That is certainly a laudable goal, but in this case, we believe the state has gone too far.

Under the CPA, a number of houses of worship in the Bay State are receiving direct taxpayer grants even though they are active faith communities with congregations and regular programs of religious outreach. They are not museums.

State no-aid-to-religion provisions are increasingly coming under scrutiny. Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to remove similar language from that state’s constitution. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving the no-aid language in Missouri’s Constitution which may provide states with some guidance.

The Baptist Joint Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Court in that case,Trinity Lutheran v. Pauley, arguing that the First Amendment does not require states to fund houses of worship.

AU plans to appeal the ruling in the Massachusetts case. Stay tuned.