Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined a coalition of religious and civil liberties groups to urge a federal appeals court to strike down the use of public funds to repair Detroit houses of worship.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 17, seven organizations asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule against aid to churches that was distributed by the City of Detroit Downtown Development Authority in 2006.
The money was given to three downtown churches to repair their facades and for landscaping and lighting upgrades to spruce up sections of the city prior to the Super Bowl. A federal district court said the aid did not advance religion.
Organizations joining on the brief include Americans United; the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; American Jewish Committee; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America; the Hindu American Foundation: The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and Americans for Religious Liberty.
“Americans have a long tradition of offering voluntary support to houses of worship,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Coercing taxpayers to provide this aid is a monumental violation of the right of conscience.”
The legal brief in American Atheists, Inc. v. City of Detroit Downtown Development Authority argues that government aid to religion ends up doing more harm than good.
“The lessons of history are compelling: Governmental aid to construct and maintain houses of worship degrades religion and distorts government,” asserts the brief.
The brief goes on to argue, “[T]he grant recipients here are not just religiously affiliated: They are full-fledged churches. So the district court’s approval of public funding for repairs would have been especially noxious to those who adopted the First Amendment…. And it would have been equally offensive to those who sought to maintain their cherished religious freedom by ensuring that their houses of worship could never develop an unhealthy dependence on governmental largesse.”
The brief draws extensively on history and cites the works of religious liberty pioneers such as James Madison, Roger Williams and others.
“Government funding leads to the very intrusiveness on freedom of conscience that Roger Williams cautioned against, and that [James] Madison designed the Establishment Clause to prevent,” the brief asserts.