SJC: George Caplan vs. Town of Acton

KeywordsConstitutional Law, “Anti-aid” amendment. Massachusetts Community Preservation Act. Historic Preservation. Church.

The SJC today issued its much awaited decision in this case – George Caplan vs. Town of Acton – addressing the anti-aid amendment as it relates to the Community Preservation Act. The Court wrote:  “We conclude that the constitutionality of such grants must be evaluated under our three-factor test:  a judge must consider whether a motivating purpose of each grant is to aid the church, whether the grant will have the effect of substantially aiding the church, and whether the grant avoids the risks of the political and economic abuses that prompted the passage of the anti-aid amendment.  We also conclude that, in light of the history of the anti-aid amendment, a grant of public funds to an active church warrants careful scrutiny.  Because the judge applied this three-factor test incorrectly in denying the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction to prohibit disbursement of these grants, we vacate the order denying the motion.  As to the grant to preserve the stained glass windows in the main church building, we remand the case to the Superior Court for entry of an order allowing the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction barring disbursement of the grant.  As to the grant to fund a “Master Plan” to preserve all three of the buildings belonging to the church, we remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

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