Court Vindicates Neutral Government Aid to Houses of Worship

Posted on June 1, 2009 In Blog

Late last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the city of Detroit did not violate the First Amendment when it partially reimbursed churches for renovations before the Super Bowl and other major sporting events. After winning a bid to host the 2006 Super Bowl, the city in 2003 created a development program to reimburse up to half the costs of refurbishing downtown buildings and parking lots. Three churches received $737,000 of more than $11 million allocated for projects. The group American Atheists sued, claiming the city could not include religious organizations in the program.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in American Atheists, Inc. v. City of Detroit Downtown Development Authority that Detroit intended to bolster its downtown — not promote religion in general or any one faith in particular.

This ruling bolsters those, such as us at the OU, who have argued for many years that the Establishment Clause is not designed to require government hostility toward religion, and that government may properly include houses of worship, parochial schools and other religious institutions in its broad subsidy programs – be they homeland security grants, energy efficiency or other forms of aid to non-governmental institutions.