from the Community Preservation Coalition
Court Decision Issued in Acton Lawsuit - September 24, 2016
In a closely-watched lawsuit questioning the Town of Acton's CPA grants to historic churches, a Middlesex County Superior Court Justice has refused to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the town from proceeding with the grants. Justice Leila R. Kern wrote in her decision that "there is no likelihood that Plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their claim that grants to the Churches under the CPA would violate the Anti-Aid Amendment." The Plaintiffs can choose to appeal.
As we reported earlier this summer, a group of local taxpayers, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed a lawsuit against Acton in an attempt to stop the town from using their CPA funds for preservation projects on two historic church buildings. Their reasoning was that the projects violated the Massachusetts Anti-Aid Amendment, a centuries-old amendment to our state's constitution that puts restrictions on public funding for private institutions. Americans United is a Washington D.C. based organization focused on church-state separation activism.
Justice Kern heard oral arguments from both sides on September 14th, and quickly issued her ruling just over a week later. The decision discussed the three criteria used to determine if the Town's CPA grants to historic church buildings violated the Anti-Aid Amendment:
Whether the purpose of the grants was to aid the Churches,
the grants in fact substantially aid the Churches,
and the grants aid the Churches in a way that is abusive or unfair, economically or politically
The court ruled that the purpose of the CPA grants was not to aid the Churches, but specifically for "the acquisition, preservation, rehabilitation and restoration of historic resources." Additionally, the court found that there was no credible evidence that the grants under CPA were "economically or politically abusive or unfair," arguing that the CPA funds were issued without regard to the applicant's makeup or purpose. Furthermore, they found that the Town of Acton's issue of the grants was done after an assessment of how to best use public funds to "effectuate a legitimate public purpose." For these reasons, the court decided it was unlikely that the Plaintiffs would succeed with the lawsuit and denied the request for the preliminary injunction.
The law firm of Anderson Krieger successfully argued the case on behalf of the Town of Action with attorney Nina Pickering-Cook making the oral presentation in court. For more information on these type of CPA grants, we encourage you to read our article on the Anti-Aid Amendment.