The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

A group of his­toric churches in New Jer­sey is de­fend­ing their right be­fore the Gar­den State’s Supreme Court to par­tic­i­pate in a his­toric preser­va­tion grant pro­gram to help re­pair their ag­ing but much loved and very note­wor­thy build­ings. But there’s push­back.

The Free­dom From Religion Foun­da­tion is su­ing Mor­ris County — which cre­ated the help­ful pro­gram — and seeks to bar the churches from re­ceiv­ing funds to shore up their ag­ing tim­bers. The Wis­con­sin-based ac­tivist group is de­scribed as “a state/church watch­dog and voice for freethought (athe­ism, ag­nos­ti­cism, skep­ti­cism).” It claims that church use of the grants vi­o­lates the New Jer­sey Con­sti­tu­tion.

“His­toric build­ings are an im­por­tant part of our coun­try’s fab­ric, from Boston’s Old North Church where Paul Re­vere hung two lanterns to the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. was pas­tor un­til his death,” coun­ters Han­nah Smith, se­nior coun­sel at Becket, a non­profit pub­lic in­ter­est law firm which is fil­ing a friend-of-the-court brief on be­half of the pro­gram and churches.

“Whether a his­toric build­ing is used for re­li­gious or sec­u­lar pur­poses should make no dif­fer­ence to whether the build­ing gets pub­lic restora­tion funds,” she notes.

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