March 7, 2012
Montgomery County Board of Supervisors
County Annex Building P.O. Box 1500 Fonda, New York 12068
I was very dismayed today when I read an article in the March 7th edition of The Leader Herald entitled County to Distribute Tourism Funds. In the article it was stated that the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors voted to award taxpayer money to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs for a Catholic canonization ceremony. Although the amount was minor ($750), it violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
The US Supreme Court in the 1947 ruling Everson v. Board of Education interpreted this as meaning financial support. In the ruling, Justice Hugo Black stated (in part):
No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State”.
While I understand the intention as was to promote tourism, it crosses a line established by the Federal government.
From their website http://www.martyrshrine.org/ we learn that The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is clearly a Catholic organization owned and run by the North American Martyrs Society who’s stated purpose is:
To promote knowledge and veneration of the North American Martyrs…and to emulate to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and their witness to a non-believing culture.
The Director of the North American Martyr Society is Fr. George Belgarde, S.J. (a Jesuit Priest) and the Staff consists of Fr. Robert McGuire, S.J. and four lay people. This is clearly not a secular purpose for government funding.
I respectfully request that the resolution approved to allocate this money to the Catholic organization be rescinded.
Gerald J. Skrocki
Yesterday I received the following response from the Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.
Dan Weaver wants some of the attention but refuses to post my name, the name of my blog or any of my comments on his online publication:
Of course there was no problem with verifying my identity. I would have respected his right not to post my comment at all, but to compound the situation with an outright lie discredits Weaver’s publication.
The legal team from Americans United for Separation of Church and State send a letter to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs declines the grant from the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. From an article published in the Recorder, written by reporter Heather Nellis, the Shrine event coordinator Beth Lynch states:
“We are what we are — a highly visible and deeply Catholic entity. We’re glad that we can contribute to the economy as far as tourism is concerned, but that’s not our main focus — we are a Catholic shrine, and we’re not going to agree that we have to do something on secular terms.”
This is exactly the point I have been trying to convey all along. No secular purpose = no public funding.