New Jersey Ruling Could Reignite Battle Over Church-State Separation

Source : The New York Times

MORRISTOWN, N.J. — The apex of the slate roof of the historic chapel of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown peeks over the trees lining the central green here, its chips and cracks visible from the ground. In need of repair, the church did what many other houses of worship in the area have done — turned for help to the county, which gave it more than $260,000 in 2013.

Since 2012, Morris County has provided more than $4.6 million to 12 churches in the form of historic preservation grants, a readily available source of money to fix facades, stained glass windows and aging roofs.

But a unanimous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court found that public money could no longer be used by churches, citing a clause in the State Constitution expressly forbidding it, a decision that could reverberate beyond New Jersey and reignite a national debate over the separation of church and state.

The New Jersey decision last week came less than a year after the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in a case fromMissouri that states must sometimes provide aid to religious groups even when their state constitutions prohibit the use of public funds for the benefit of houses of worship.

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