Massachusetts Department of Revenue Given Additional Time to Respond to AU that Massachusetts Communities Must Stop Giving Taxpayer Aid to Houses of Worship
June 30, 2013 - The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has been given additional time to respond to the Massachusetts Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) that Massachusetts communities must stop giving taxpayer aid to houses of worship and that officials in Massachusetts must stop allowing communities to use taxpayer money to renovate houses of worship. The churches in question have active congregations and regularly hold worship services.
Earlier this year, Americans United received several complaints that Massachusetts municipalities were using funds under the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act to repair churches. This practice, Americans United asserts, violates both the U.S. and Massachusetts constitutions.
Massachusetts officials did not respond to AU’s April letter. On June 27th, 2013 the organization sent a follow-up letter to the officials requesting a response within 14 days or “we will be forced to consider further action. This is a serious and ongoing problem on a large scale, and deserves your prompt attention,” observes the letter.
In the April letter to officials at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser cited several examples of tax money being awarded to houses of worship.
Among them were the First Parish Church of Cohasset, which received $65,000 to restore its windows and three churches in Monson – one Catholic, one Methodist and one Unitarian Universalist – which received grants totaling $317,000 for things such as steeple renovations, interior work and repair of structural damage. Another church has received tax funding. Officials in Acton approved two grants totaling $45,000 to the West Acton Baptist Church.
Americans United points out that a provision of the Massachusetts Constitution clearly states that tax money may not be used for religious purposes.
The provision reads, “No grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of credit shall be made or authorized by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any infirmary, hospital, institution, primary or secondary school, or charitable or religious undertaking which is not publicly owned and under the exclusive control, order and supervision of public officers or public agents authorized by the Commonwealth or federal authority or both…and no such grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of public credit shall be made or authorized for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.”
Ellery Schempp at Harvard Divinity School
Following is an article
about Ellery Schempp, Vice-President of the Massachusetts Chapter of AU, highlighting his recent talk at the Harvard Divinity School. The article, "Bypassing the Bible" appeared in the Harvard Gazette. It points out that "For years, Dr. Moore and her students have debated the implications of landmark Supreme Court decisions in her “Religion, Democracy, and Education” course but they rarely get to dig past the scholarship to the actual names attached to those decisions - people like Ellery Schempp, a freethinking 16-year-old who, more than 50 years ago, decided to protest his suburban Pennsylvania high school’s mandatory daily Bible readings....“There are very few people who have won a Supreme Court case about First Amendment topics who come to Harvard Divinity School, and most of us are dead,” Schempp told his audience with characteristic bluntness. Schempp’s case, Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), effectively overturned laws in more than 30 states that endorsed or required Bible readings in public schools. You can read the entire article at:
House Bill H.391 (same as H.2715 in 2012 and H.317 in 2009)
is Stealth Anti-Science Legislation
Ron Madnick, President of AU-MA, testified on May 30th 2013 before the Joint Committee on Education against Massachusetts House Bill 391. His statement can be seen HERE.
House Bill H.2715 is Stealth Anti-Science Legislation
The statement below on House Bill H.2715 was presented to the Massachusetts State Legislature Joint Committee on Education on October 4th 2011 by Dr. Sam Kounaves, a Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Geology at Tufts University, and a former two-term member of the Winchester School Committee.
As clearly pointed out by Ronal Madnick, President of Americans United for Separation of Church & State, this bill does not give students any more rights than are already allowed under the U.S. First Amendment and the Massachusetts Constitution. However, what this bill will do is allow students and teachers to promote, to captive K-12 audiences, religion as science.
HB 2715 institutes a policy that "...allows for .... student expression of religious viewpoints at school events ...... , in class assignments..." It directs school districts to "...treat such expression ... in the same manner as the expression of a secular or other viewpoint and prohibits the district from discriminating against a student based on his or her expressed religious viewpoint."
Part of the motivation for this bill is clear. Bill 2715 (the same as H.376 introduced in 2009) was originally crafted by Ms. Evelyn Reilly, the former public policy director of the Massachusetts Family Institute, an organization affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family (FOF), and a member of its "family policy council". Indeed, MFI has links on its web site to FOF's DVD series The Truth Project (TTP). In the “science” lectures the TTP presents evolution as a "demonic lie" that is in "direct conflict with the Christian perspective", and identifies it as an example of a "godless philosophy". These lectures present anything but The Truth, and are rather the "perspective" of fundamentalists.
For years, it’s been a tactic of these groups to push for teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in an effort bring religion into the science classroom. Similar bills have been introduced in several state legislatures. These “viewpoint anti-discrimination” bills are just another backdoor effort to make the established fact of evolution appear as a "guess" and on equal footing as creationism.
According to one of the bill's sponsors, State Rep Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleboro, "If it becomes law, the bill would allow students to discuss religion with classmates as they would any secular issue in school" (which they already can), she then goes on, "Perhaps in science class, when evolution is discussed, a student would be able to bring up creationism."(Cape Cod Times, 10/7/2009)
This bill was written and promoted by the MFI with the apparent intent of intimidating teachers, especially science teachers. This bill will allow students (perhaps with coaching from their parents) to express religious views in science classrooms, exams, and assignments. It would force biology teachers to give equal credit to students who, when asked questions about evolution, answer with religious views about creation. It will allow the promotion of creationism, intelligent design, and non-scientific views, as equally valid science. This bill will intimidate and inhibit teachers from teaching accepted science content.
As a scientist, educator, and former school committee member, and as a citizen of this commonwealth who passionately supports freedom of religion, I strongly oppose this bill.
Please see the letter opposing HB2715 sent by AU-MA to the Joint Committee and seven reasons why this is an ill-concieved bill.
UNITED- MASSACHUSETTS CHAPTER - ACTIVITES
Ron Madnick (President AU-MA) at the AU-MA table during Worcester Pride Celabration set up behind Worcester City Commons, September 17, 2011.