MA Supreme Court Orders Halt to Grant Preserving Church’s Stained Glass Window

By Don Byrd

Written by Don Byrd

State law protecting the separation of church and state likely forbids a historic preservation grant issued for the purpose of preserving the stained glass window of a church sanctuary, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled last week, overturning a trial court’s ruling. The Court issued an injunction halting the payment. A separate grant to fund a study of the church building’s integrity, was remanded back to the trial court for more factual discovery.

At issue is a provision in the Massachusetts Constitution barring the “grant, appropriation or use of public money . . . for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.” The court ruled that, in light of the anti-aid amendment, “a grant of public funds to an active church warrants careful scrutiny.”

Applying that scrutiny, the court determined that the grant for the stained glass window would substantially aid the church in carrying out its essential religious function. Here is an excerpt from that portion of the opinion:

The church was candid in its grant applications, explaining that — faced with declining membership and contributions — it would need the town’s “help” in order to …read more

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