Remember when the city council in South Bend, Indiana wanted to give $1,200,000 of taxpayer money to St. Joseph’s High School — a private, Catholic school — so they could get a new football field and athletic track?
They knew they couldn’t hand over the money directly. People would notice. So their Plan B was to buy a Family Dollar store, demolish it, and give the land to the school instead.
Turns out people noticed that, too.
Yesterday, a federal judge ruled against the City Council. Victory!
In a 36-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. favored four South Bend residents who sued over the city’s planned transfer of the former Family Dollar property, which the city bought last month for $1.2 million.
“The proposed Family Dollar transaction has the appearance of putting (religious) adherents and non-adherents on different footing,” the judge wrote, “which would lead an objective, well-informed, reasonable observer to think the city is endorsing St. Joseph’s High School, the local Catholic community, or the Diocese that operates the school.”
“We are delighted that the federal court has recognized that the Constitution prevents government from giving direct subsidies to religious institutions, as South Bend was attempting to do,” [ACLU attorney Gavin Rose] said.
For the legal wonks, here’s the ruling (PDF)
Americans United celebrated the victory, too:
Said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, “We’re pleased that the court has halted this planned government handout to a religious institution favored by local officials. South Bend should use its tax revenues in a manner that benefits all its residents, without regard to their religious faiths.”
This should never have gone to a court in the first place. The city council members should have known better than to hand a Church-owned school an unnecessary present from the taxpayers.
At least this time, the conclusion was the right one.
(Thanks to Beth for the link!)