Church/state separation advocates breathed a huge sigh of relief last month after the Supreme Court announced it would not hear a case from Morris County (New Jersey) that could have allowed churches to renovate their buildings using taxpayer funds.
You can read all the details here, but the gist of the case was that Morris County officials gave millions of dollars in “historic preservation grants” to a dozen churches between 2012 and 2015… even though those churches were still being used for services. In other words, rather than using money from the churches’ own bank accounts, which is what they’re supposed to do, those congregations got taxpayers to foot the bill on their behalf.
A year ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously and correctly ruled that this was a violation of church/state separation. (They allowed the previous grants to stand, but Morris County couldn’t make similar grants in the future.)
As a result of winning the case, FFRF was entitled to legal fees. Those amounted to approximately $750,000 — which accounts for having to sue over the initial grant program, fighting the case in court, and writing briefs all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s a lot of attorney time.
On Friday, however, the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders filed a new lawsuit against FFRF and plaintiff David Steketee saying basically, “We shouldn’t have to pay all this money.” They’re also saying that, because the New Jersey Supreme Court said the grants they gave out could remain in place, the courts should reinstitute the grant program for religious institutions.
To put it another way, they lost the case… and now they’re suing because they lost the case.
“This legal challenge is bizarre,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “We litigated this case fairly in court — and the county lost. The lawsuit demonstrates religious privilege run amok.”
“Twice the county has tried to take this issue to federal court, and twice it has been rebuffed,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, referring to the county’s early attempt to remove the case to federal court and to the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case.
The irony here is that FFRF will have to fight this in court, too, and they should prevail. Which means the Morris County group will be on the hook for even more money. They’re already lost $750,000. Either they have cash to burn or they’re addicted to gambling because they’re about to lose even more.
(Image via Shutterstock)