Magazine article Church & State

Historic Mistake: Taxpayers Should Hot Have to Repair Houses of Worship

Magazine article Church & State

Historic Mistake: Taxpayers Should Hot Have to Repair Houses of Worship

Article excerpt

For more than 200 years, the rule in the United States was that voluntary donors should pay for the construction and upkeep of houses of worship.

This changed dramatically during the presidency of George W. Bush. With the approval of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Department of the Interior announced that it would start giving grants to "historic" religious buildings--even if they had active congregations.

Old North Church in Boston (site of the famous lanterns that signaled patriot Paul Revere) was among the first recipients. It was a sly move on the Bush administration's part. The church is undeniably historic and invokes patriotic feelings from many Americans.

But it remains an Episcopal church, not a museum. Worship services are held there regularly, and Old North Church has a body of members.

At the time, Americans United warned that this change in policy would have negative consequences. Soon, AU pointed out, tax money would start flowing to churches simply because they happen to be old or well connected.

That prophecy has now come to pass. In February, the Interior Department announced a new round of grants. Among them is the Washington National Cathedral, an Episcopal edifice in the nation's capital known for hosting prominent officials' funerals, memorial services and other quasi-official events.

Public funds also went to two other Episcopal congregations, one in Philadelphia and one in Buffalo. Both date from around the time of the Civil War. Sure, they are old structures--but they are not especially noteworthy from a national historical perspective. …

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