The Freedom From Religion Foundation is requesting that the Minnesota Historical Society reconsider its misguided use of tax dollars to fund religious buildings.
FFRF has been contacted by a concerned Minnesota taxpayer who reports that the state historical society in St. Paul regularly awards grants to houses of worship. In 2015, the historical society awarded a $9,500 grant to St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Clay County. The church is now reportedly hoping to receive a $150,000 grant for a new roof, according to local media. FFRF understands that these funds would come from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which is funded by sales tax revenue.
“St. John has 50 to 60 congregants and holds regular religious services,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne to the Minnesota Historical Society director. “The state directly supports these religious activities when it funds repairs on the church. Such grants to support houses of worship violate both the United States and Minnesota Constitutions.”
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from financially supporting churches. Specifically, the government may not fund projects for religious worship. The Minnesota Constitution specifically prohibits the government from using taxpayer funds to support places of worship.
Although FFRF strongly supports the Minnesota Historical Society’s historic preservation mission, the state must carry out this purpose without compelling taxpayers to support religion. Churches cannot rely on the government to maintain their houses of worship. And if Minnesotans are concerned about the degradation of a historic church that is still being used as a house of worship, they must raise private funds to finance repairs.
“Churches must not be rewarded by state institutions for failing to maintain their historic buildings,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Minnesota taxpayers should not be financially burdened by this negligence.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members and chapters across the country, including over 500 in Minnesota and two local chapters in the state. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.