A controversial decision issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court maintains that churches in the Garden State should be prohibited from receiving historic preservation grants.
In the case, Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) v. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that $4.6 million given to 12 churches violates the Religious Aid Clause of the state’s constitution.
Diana Verm, who serves as a counsel at Becket – a legal organization based in Washington, D.C. – argues that religious liberty is for all, and her group filed a brief in support of the churches.
"The court's decision leaves churches out in the cold and denies the many important contributions they have made to our nation's history and culture," Verm maintains. "Denying widely available historical preservation grants to churches simply because they are churches departs from the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Trinity Lutheran that the Constitution prohibits governments from discriminating against religious organizations."
While the New Jersey Supreme Court contends that its ruling does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution, Verm contends that the U.S. Supreme Court could see things quite differently – if the case is appealed to the nation's high court.
"The U.S. Supreme Court does have the ability to overturn a state supreme court decision or a state supreme court constitutional provision if it violates the United States Constitution, and that is what the Supreme Court could possibly do in this case, [which] is [to] say, 'Your interpretation of this New Jersey provision violates the United States Constitution in this case – the Free Exercise Clause – because it discriminates against religious groups,'" Verm pointed out.