Carson City’s payment to church opposed
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit says Carson City was wrong to help one of the oldest churches in the city construct its new building.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said in a letter dated Feb. 26 that the $78,800 the city agreed to pay First Presbyterian Church for work on its new and old buildings “plainly violates” the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The city was also wrong to give money to repair the old building if the building is used for any religious activity, the group states.
The $78,000 the city gave the downtown church is intended to pay for work the church did on new sidewalks, landscaping and roofing, and to help build the new building and preserve the old building built in the 1860s.
The city said it could give money to the church because it was for work on the buildings and not for religious practices.
But Americans United said in the letter that a government can’t help pay for the construction or repair of a building used for religious reasons.
The letter cites several cases as examples, including a 2007 ruling by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in Nevada.
Alex Luchenitser, an attorney for Americans United, said the group probably wouldn’t be interested in the case if both buildings were clearly not being used to practice religion.
The group won’t decide what to do next until it gets a response from the city, he said, but “litigation is always a possibility.”
Mayor Bob Crowell, an attorney at Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw & Ferrario, said Americans United is wrong.
The city’s contribution to the church is “a benefit to all of Carson City and not just the church,” he said.
Supervisor Pete Livermore said the city hasn’t done anything wrong and shouldn’t be in a hurry to change its decision unless the city district attorney’s office says otherwise.
“Just because someone on the East Coast writes you a letter doesn’t mean we’re going to jump through a bunch of goddamn hoops,” he said.
In 2005, church representatives asked to tear down the historic sanctuary at Nevada and King streets, saying it was structurally unsound and unusable for services.
City officials rejected the request, but gave the church $67,700 in 2006 to help with design costs for the new building.
Americans United, founded in 1947, says it supports religious freedom but opposes government-sponsored religious activities.
– Contact reporter Dave Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.
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