Barry Lynn’s recent post at the Huffington Post is making me think. As some of you know, Lynn is the Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. In this particular post, he argues that the federal government should not be using taxpayer money to fund the repair of historic churches.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Interior announced which structures will be receiving federal money as part of the “Save America’s Treasures” program. This year three churches made the list.
St. Mark’s Church, an Episcopal Church in Philadelphia built in 1847, will receive $700,000 to repair the church exterior, parish house, and rectory buildings.
Trinity Church in Buffalo will receive $178,615 to install a protective covering for the tower stained glass window and for repairs to exterior windows and eaves.
The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. will receive $700,000 for repairs, repainting of the exterior stonework, and the conservation of stain-glass windows.
Lynn argues that because these churches are active congregations, taxpayer money should not be used to preserve them. To do so violates the separation of church and state.
I am somewhat sympathetic to Lynn’s argument. For the government to fund religious organizations does seem like a violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause. But should the same rules apply to historic churches?
The “Save American Treasures” project is designed to preserve buildings that have been important to the history of the United States. Or, as the SAT website states:
The Federal Save America’s Treasures program is one of the largest and most successful grant programs for the protection of our nation’s endangered and irreplaceable cultural heritage. Grants are available for preservation and/or conservation work on nationally significant intellectual and cultural artifacts and historic structures and sites. Intellectual and cultural artifacts include artifacts, collections, documents, sculpture, and works of art. Historic structures and sites include historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects.
To argue, as Lynn does, that religious buildings are not part of the America’s “cultural heritage” seems to deny the importance that religion has played in American history. One does not have to believe that America was “founded as a Christian nation” to believe that faith, and the buildings and structures in which faith played itself out, have been important to the history of the United States.
It seems to me that these grants are meant to promote and preserve the “historic” dimensions of these structures” and not the “religious” dimensions of them. Perhaps these two dimensions cannot be separated, but I think that they must be if we are going to respect the fact that religion has always been a vital part of American history.
Robert Martin says
See my previous post on government funding cuts. 🙂