Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America applauded the decision announced yesterday by the U.S. Department of the Interior to award a $317,000 federal grant under the Save America’s Historic Treasures program to the Old North Foundation to help preserve Boston’s Old North Church. (The funds will be used to repair the windows of the 280-year-old church, made famous from their role in Paul Revere’s ride to alert colonists of the British troop advances toward Lexington and Concord.)
The decision by Interior Secretary Gale Norton is the latest in a series of steps that seek to implement President Bush’s directive that federal programs must not discriminate against religious individuals or institutions in otherwise religion-neutral programs. Previous to yesterday’s announcement, historic churches, synagogues or other houses of worship were inappropriately excluded from receiving preservation grants – even for religiously neutral purposes – simply because they were religious institutions. Save America’s Treasures was established in 1998 as a public-private partnership between the Interior Department’s National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The competitive, religion-neutral, grants process is designed to ensure America’s important architectural treasures are preserved for generations to come. A recent study by the National Trust found that the average historic congregation faces up to $2 million of repair costs.
Nathan J. Diament, the Union’s director of public policy, issued the following statement in connection with the policy announcement:
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations is very grateful for the decision by the Bush Administration, announced yesterday by Secretary Norton, to remove yet another instance of religious discrimination from federal policy. Historically landmarked housed of worship are a treasure for all Americans, but for too long the small communities associated with some of these treasures have had to bear the cost of preserving them alone, with no assistance from the government – simply because of their religious character. This new policy is the right one as it recognizes that historic preservation serves all Americans of all faiths and that faith institutions must be treated fairly and equally.