History and the First Amendment

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The Acton Congregational Church. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

This story on NPR caught my attention as I drove to work earlier this week.  I’m the first one to object to the inclusion of Christmas songs in the annual winter concert or Rudolph on the classroom door.  I rant over the use of public land for nativity scenes, even when a Chanukah menorah is placed beside it, despite having been raised as a jew.  (To be honest, it was the ugliest menorah in the history of menorahs) I skip the “under God” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (before you freak out, remember that it wasn’t included in the original pledge and ruins the tempo).  I believe absolutely in the separation of church and state.

That’s why I was surprised at my musings after hearing the story, which discusses the debate over using funds from the Community Preservation Act to restore/renovate a church.  I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, one of those iconic New England towns.  The center of Lexington is anchored by the Lexington Common or Battleground and surrounded by historic taverns, homes, and churches. Part of the economy is dependent upon keeping that area looking attractive and as “New England” as possible; a dilapidated church would be an eyesore and ruin the background of tourist photos.  Even though I’m a (lapsed) jew, seeing soaring church steeples above the autumn riot of color in a Vermont valley lifts my spirits and tells me I’m in New England.  It just screams home!

But does this mean we should be using tax-payer money for the upkeep on historic churches?  What about places like the Old North Church which are so much a part of our civic history?  I’m still conflicted, but at the end of the day, I can’t support the use of tax revenues for churches.  If a church is truly “historic,” then the local historical society should raise the necessary funds and I will happily contribute.

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