Press Release

Historic churches to court: we deserve preservation grants, too Atheist group attempts to blacklist New Jersey churches from historic preservation grant program

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of historic churches went to the New Jersey Supreme Court today to defend their right to receive preservation grants and keep their older buildings standing. In FFRF v. Morris County Board of Freeholders, the Wisconsin-based atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation claims that allowing historic churches to participate in historic preservation grant programs violates the New Jersey Constitution.

The following statement can be attributed to Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket: “Whether public restoration funds go to churches or to other buildings, they help preserve our nation’s rich history for the community and for future generations. From Boston’s Old North Church where Paul Revere hung two lanterns to the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor until his death, historic churches are still historic buildings, and they deserve to remain standing too.”

Between 2012 and 2015, Morris County provided preservation grants to 55 religious and nonreligious buildings. The program requires applicants to establish the historic significance of the building, and grants for churches are limited to preservation of the buildings’ exterior and structural elements.

Earlier this year in Trinity Lutheran, the U.S. Supreme Court protected a church’s right to participate in widely available public benefits programs, which would include Morris County’s historic preservation grant program. Becket along with Thomas A. Gentile of Wison Elser in Florham Park, New Jersey filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending Morris County’s grant program and the Catholic, Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches whose buildings have already benefited from the program. A decision can be expected in 2018.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Melinda Skea at or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).