Officials from the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs have turned down a $750 tourism grant from Montgomery County to help pay for the canonization ceremony of Kateri Tekakwitha.
The county Board of Supervisors awarded the grant in February, one of several given to area agencies to promote tourism. County officials believe as many as 5,000 people will come to Auriesville for the ceremony conferring sainthood on Kateri, a member of the Mohawk tribe who was born in 1656 near present-day Auriesville. The ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 21 at the shrine.
The grant was part of $11,600 awarded to agencies throughout the county to promote tourism. As soon as the award to the shrine was announced, officials from the Washington D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State began contacting local officials and telling them the grant violated the First Amendment of the Constitution, which is widely interpreted to maintain the separation of church and state.
At a meeting of the county’s Economic Development and Planning Committee earlier this month, Amsterdam 2nd Ward Supervisor Jeff Stark offered a resolution changing the language of the original proposal, adding the words, “no public money in the form of the tourism grant [shall] be used for sectarian purposes” and “all grant money … shall be used for valid, secular purposes.” That resolution remains on the agenda for the full board of supervisors to consider at its meeting Tuesday.
Shrine spokeswoman Beth Lynch said Friday the grant was initially accepted, but the new conditions made it impossible to take the money.
“We did not initially turn down the grant, but we can’t sign the addendum,” shrine spokeswoman Beth Lynch said Friday. “We can’t sign anything with those conditions. We’re not a secular organization. We are who we are, and we’re not going to compromise, dilute or disintegrate that.”