Atheists vs. Detroit

The City of Detroit Development Agency offered to pay half the cost of renovating St. John’s Episcopal Church. American Atheists took the city to court, saying that the grant violated the establishment clause of the Constitution–and as such, the city has withheld the payment to the church.

The Christian Post is reporting that the federal court has ruled against the atheists.

“Churches cannot be treated as second class simply because they are religious institutions. They have the same right to reimbursement for physical improvements as all other entities have,” said Dale Schowengerdt, a counsel for the Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund, in a statement.

“No reasonable person would consider a church’s receipt of contractually-promised reimbursement to be a government endorsement of religion. The court agreed that the church was rightfully allowed to be part of the city’s program,” he argued.

The City of Detroit Development Agency made a contract with St. John’s Episcopal Church to improve its outer appearance to help boost the city’s image before the 2006 Super Bowl and to spur economic development in the area, according to ADF, which represented the church’s interests in the suit.

Read the rest.

Here’s more background from the Detroit Free-Press, last month.

The Associated Press has the fuller picture:

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ruled Wednesday that the Detroit Downtown Development Authority should not have awarded the churches matching grants. He said it violated separation between church and state because some of the money was spent on improving large signs and stained glass windows containing religious imagery.

But Cohn ruled that most of the roughly $736,000 was OK because any downtown property owner was eligible to apply and the Central United Methodist Church, Second Baptist Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church used the grants on improvements such as lighting, parking lots, sanctuaries and landscaping.

Found here.

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