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NJ 'No Church Need Apply' Repair Grant Case Rejected

By George Khoury, Esq. on March 04, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The United States Supreme Court has rejected the case against Morris County in New Jersey stemming from the county's refusal to give churches funds for historic preservation of buildings, under a particular government grant program.

Notably though, despite concurring in the decision to deny certiorari, rookie Justice Kavanaugh issued a "statement" explaining that the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision "is in serious tension with this Court's religious equality precedents."

Government vs. Religion

As Justice Kavanaugh made painstakingly clear, the Court's prior decision in the Trinity Church case makes the Court's refusal of the Morris County case that much more difficult. The Trinity case involved religious schools being denied funding to resurface their outdoor playgrounds, while other private, non-religious schools were eligible.

Here however, unlike the secular purpose of resurfacing playgrounds, the grant money could be used to preserve religious messages, such as through restored artwork, iconography, and stained glass scenes (not to mention, the grants could also be used to keep active houses of worship open). But rather than analyze the nuance between secular and religious purposes, Justice Kavanaugh laments two issues that he believes are the reasons the case was not taken up on cert., namely that the facts are unclear and that there haven't been enough lower court decisions applying Trinity yet.

As the New York Times explained, the New Jersey High Court sees the case differently than Justice Kavanaugh:

"This case does not involve the expenditure of taxpayer money for nonreligious uses, such as the playground resurfacing in Trinity Lutheran ... The appeal instead relates to grants that sustain the continued use of active houses of worship for religious services and finance repairs to religious imagery. In our judgment, those grants constitute an impermissible religious use of public funds."

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