Written by Don Byrd

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to take up a New Jersey case involving government funding for church repairs. The announcement leaves in place a 2018 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court striking down such payments to churches as prohibited by the state constitution’s ban on aid to religion. At issue are state grants to twelve (12) churches totaling $4 million from 2012 to 2015 for repairs and restoration as part of a state historic preservation program. Because the taxpayer funds would “sustain the continued use of active houses of worship for religious services,” the state’s highest court wrote, “those grants constitute an impermissible religious use of public funds.”

In a statement issued with the Supreme Court’s denial of the case, Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch, argued that “the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court is in serious tension with this Court’s religious equality precedents…. Barring religious organizations because they are religious from a general historic preservation grants program is pure discrimination against religion.”

Citing the lack of clarity in the factual record in this case, however, and the fact that there is inadequate case law applying the recent Trinity Lutheran Church funding case, even those three justices agreed that the case should be declined. In other words, while religious liberty protections against direct taxpayer funding of houses of worship for religious purpose seems to remain intact, at least some justices signaled a willingness to reconsider that principle when the right case comes along.

You can see the Supreme Court’s Order List, which includes Justice Kavanaugh’s statement, here.