The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued their decision today in the ten-taxpayer lawsuit over the Town of Acton's CPA grants to a historic church.
The 77-page decision can be viewed by using the following link:
In its conclusion, the court wrote:
We conclude that the constitutionality of such grants must be evaluated under our three-factor test: a judge must consider whether a motivating purpose of each grant is to aid the church, whether the grant will have the effect of substantially aiding the church, and whether the grant avoids the risks of the political and economic abuses that prompted the passage of the anti-aid amendment. We also conclude that, in light of the history of the anti-aid amendment, a grant of public funds to an active church warrants careful scrutiny. Because the judge applied this three-factor test incorrectly in denying the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to prohibit disbursement of these grants, we vacate the order denying the motion. As to the grant to preserve the stained glass windows in the main church building, we remand the case to the Superior Court for entry of an order allowing the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction barring disbursement of the grant. As to the grant to fund a "Master Plan" to preserve all three of the buildings belonging to the church, we remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The Coalition will provide further coverage of this decision next week. As always, we urge communities to consult municipal counsel to assess the impact of this ruling on your CPA program.