Mass. Judge Rejects Injunction to Block Usage of Government Money for Church Restoration

A Massachusetts superior court judge has rejected a motion for an injunction against a program that would provide taxpayer funds to go to a restoration project for a historic church located in Martha's Vineyard.

Judge Richard T. Moses ruled earlier this week against a preliminary injunction being brought to halt the Community Preservation Coalition's funding of restoration work to Trinity United Methodist Church of Oak Bluffs Campground.  "The court finds that there has been an insufficient showing of a likelihood of success on the merits and that granting of the injunction wouldn't be in the public interest," wrote Moses.

Established in 2000 by the Community Preservation Act, the CPC's stated purpose is to help Massachusetts communities preserve various sites and locales as well as help with growth.  "CPA is a smart growth tool that helps communities preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities," reads the "Overview" entry on its website.

"PA also helps strengthen the state and local economies by expanding housing opportunities and construction jobs for the Commonwealth's workforce, and by supporting the tourism industry through preservation of the Commonwealth's historic and natural resources."

Through the CPA, funds are created with tax dollars and local CPC chapters can be formed boards having five to nine members who make recommendations before legislative bodies as to certain projects to fund.

"Property taxes traditionally fund the day-to-day operating needs of safety, health, schools, roads, maintenance, and more," continued the "Overview."

"But until CPA was enacted, there was no steady funding source for preserving and improving a community's character and quality of life. The Community Preservation Act gives a community the funds needed to control its future."

Recently, the town of Oak Bluffs sought to provide approximately $32,000 in CPA money to pay for restoration work to the stain glass windows of Trinity Church.  The decision prompted a lawsuit from ten Oak Bluffs residents who believe that government money going to a church was in violation of both the state constitution and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Their efforts against the CPA money going to Trinity caught the attention of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a blog entry posted Tuesday, Simon Brown of Americans United wrote that Judge Moses was ignoring the Massachusetts Constitution, which specifically prohibits government grants to private religious enterprises.

"Trinity Methodist Church may be an antique, but it isn't just some museum. It holds worship services at 10 every Sunday morning. That sounds like an active church to me," wrote Brown.  "Houses of worship in need of repair should ask their own congregants to foot the bill, not the local government. And since this is Martha's Vineyard we're talking about, I'm betting cash isn't in short supply."

Part of the United Methodist Church of Martha's Vineyard (UMCMV), Trinity draws its lineage to the Martha's Vineyard Campmeeting Association (MVCMA) of the nineteenth century.  The location has a lengthy history of being a place where Methodists gathered for worship and religious revival a la the "tent meetings" model of the Great Awakenings.

Ronald H. Rappaport, attorney for Oak Bluffs, told the MV Gazette that he was "pleased with the decision."

"I just want to be clear that there is a distinction between preservation of a historic building and promoting religion," said Rappaport.  "The Camp Ground is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Trinity Church is an integral part of the public's enjoyment of that area."

Calls and emails made by The Christian Post to the Community Preservation Coalition office were not returned by press time.