Supreme Court of New Jersey’s decision was a victorious ruling For ACLU.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled taxpayer money could not be granted for church repair projects if the building is used in religious activities. This ruling is applicable even if the churches concerned have historic values. The highest court said that grants amounting to millions of dollars to local churches by Morris County violated state Constitution proscriptions which forbid doling out money as aid to any kind of religious institution.
Stuart Rabner, the Chief Justice, delivered the opinion of the court. He wrote that the Religious Aid Clause in plain language forbids usage of taxpayer funds to repair churches and also restore them. The program administered by Morris County directly violated that longstanding provision.
The case in question involves the decisions taken by Morris County from 2012 to 2015. The county decided to award $4.6 million to a few churches for the purpose of historic preservation. The money was allocated from the Preservation Trust Fund. This ended taking forty percent of the entire fund. This also became the majority of payment the county was giving for all historic preservations.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a suit where the Madison, Wisconsin headquartered organization no citizen can be “obliged” to pay any kind of tax for worship places repair. The Supreme Court agreed on April 18 and announced that such grants violate Religious Aid Clause. The court decision was supported by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). ACLU in its statement said this decision represents a powerful statement of taxpayer funds not going to support any kind of religious worship.
The churches and the county had argued that the First Amendment would be violated if funds are not granted to houses of worship. They said the Free Exercise Clause of the amendment provides the necessary legal backing to obtain funds. They also highlighted a specific case where the Supreme Court in Missouri ruled that the state could not withhold a grant for resurfacing a playground in a playschool under church management.
It is unclear if the state legislature will now try to pass a law to overrule the legal decision.