Preserving the Pews: Publicly Administered Historic Preservation Funding Programs & The Federal Religion Clauses
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Religious structures are inextricably intertwined with the nation’s history. Churches in colonial New England served not just as houses of religious worship, but also the only municipal building in many communities. Annual town meetings, courtrooms, hospitals, and even art galleries operated from these religious structures. During the Westward Expansion of the late nineteenth century, many of the first public buildings erected by homesteaders were “prairie churches” that served as spaces for both religious services and secular gatherings for farm families in the Great Plains. Synagogues on the Lower East Side of Manhattan served as beacons of stability and welcome for Jews immigrating to the United States from Europe during the Gilded Age. During the Civil Rights Era, churches and other religious institutions served as organizing spaces for religious and secular leaders alike. The story of America is embedded in its religious structures. However, fear of losing these vital historic structures due to declining attendance and budgets has inspired many state and local governments to develop public programs that provide direct monetary relief to religious institutions for historic preservation projects. Courts remain divided on whether these public funds can be directly given to a religious institution for historic preservation purposes without violating the First Amendment’s Establishment or Free Exercise Clauses.
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Preserving Our Past to Build a Healthy Future: A Historic Preservation Plan for South Carolina, 2007-2015 South Carolina Department of Archives and History. State Historic Preservation Office. (2007)