FFRF gets support in unconstitutional N.J. funding case

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is grateful for the backing of kindred organizations in a New Jersey case it is fighting against the unconstitutional funding of churches.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union recently submitted an amicus brief in support of a suit that FFRF and member David Steketee filed in state court in late 2015 against Morris County, N.J., challenging major grants of tax dollars to repair or maintain churches. FFRF is specifically objecting to $1.04 million in allotments to Presbyterian Church in Morristown.

FFRF contends the grants clearly violate Article I, Paragraph 3 of the N.J. Constitution that guarantees: “nor shall any person be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right.” The amicus brief agrees with that contention.

“State constitutional history shows that the Religious Aid Clause was intended to prohibit public funding of religion, and that preventing tax support of buildings used for religious worship was one of its principal aims,” the brief says. “History also teaches that the funding at issue here could result in the evils that the Religious Aid Clause was meant to guard against: violation of taxpayers’ freedom of conscience; public funding of religion on an extensive scale; weakening of religious institutions through increased dependence on governmental support; governmental interference with churches; and division between religious groups.”

The case is currently before the New Jersey Supreme Court, which has accepted a direct appeal of a trial-level decision allowing Morris County to disburse millions in taxpayer funds for church repair, despite the state Constitution provision barring such use

FFRF is hopeful that the New Jersey Supreme Court will confirm that Morris County cannot compel taxpayers to support or repair churches by upholding the plain language of the state Constitution. With strong national groups rallying to its side, its confidence has received a boost.

“We truly appreciate the support of Americans United and the ACLU,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The compelling secular arguments we all are making will resonate even more deeply with the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

FFRF’s lawsuit is being handled by attorney Paul S. Grosswald. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew L. Seidel and Elaine and Eric Stone Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne are co-counsel. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the constitutional separation of state and church, with more than 29,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 500-plus in New Jersey.

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