Judge Rules That South Bend City Council Cannot Give $1,200,000 to Private Catholic School

Remember when the city council in South Bend, Indiana wanted to give $1,200,000 of taxpayer money to St. Joseph’s High School — a private, Catholic school — so they could get a new football field and athletic track?

They knew they couldn’t hand over the money directly. People would notice. So their Plan B was to buy a Family Dollar store, demolish it, and give the land to the school instead.

Turns out people noticed that, too.

Yesterday, a federal judge ruled against the City Council. Victory!

In a 36-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. favored four South Bend residents who sued over the city’s planned transfer of the former Family Dollar property, which the city bought last month for $1.2 million.

“The proposed Family Dollar transaction has the appearance of putting (religious) adherents and non-adherents on different footing,” the judge wrote, “which would lead an objective, well-informed, reasonable observer to think the city is endorsing St. Joseph’s High School, the local Catholic community, or the Diocese that operates the school.”

“We are delighted that the federal court has recognized that the Constitution prevents government from giving direct subsidies to religious institutions, as South Bend was attempting to do,” [ACLU attorney Gavin Rose] said.

For the legal wonks, here’s the ruling (PDF)

Americans United celebrated the victory, too:

Said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, “We’re pleased that the court has halted this planned government handout to a religious institution favored by local officials. South Bend should use its tax revenues in a manner that benefits all its residents, without regard to their religious faiths.”

This should never have gone to a court in the first place. The city council members should have known better than to hand a Church-owned school an unnecessary present from the taxpayers.

At least this time, the conclusion was the right one.

(Thanks to Beth for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    Time to vote out some city council members for wasting your taxpayer dollars on both this 3-card monte give away scheme and the lawsuit as well.

  • Anonymous

    Time to vote out some city council members for wasting your taxpayer dollars on both this 3-card monte give away scheme and the lawsuit as well.

  • Anonymous

    And here is a reason why this is the right decision:
    http://www.ctnow.com/news/hc-campbell-rachel-0907-20110907,0,2185421.column

    They allowed a non-Christian to attend their school, but kicked her out when they learned that she is gay. Ironically their motto is “The Truth Will Set You Free”

    • Gprano

      Well spotted for the motto :-D

    • Anonymous

      Given what a repressive environment that must have been, it probably was setting her free. :)

      • Anonymous

        Judging from the article it wasn’t that bad actually. Her friends knew that he was gay. She also wasn’t a Christian and that was accepted. So it isn’t an all-out fundy school

  • Erik

    Great job. Now we just need to stop funding religious churches and schools altogether…

  • Beth

    I am so pleased that this was the ruling. Not everyone in my community of South Bend feels the same way, and the discussion is ongoing. I hope this will be an opportunity for my atheist friends and I to show people WHY we feel this way; I’ve already had to point out that I am not anti-Catholic, but I AM pro-Constitution. 

    Thanks for providing the update, Hemant! 

    Beth

  • Newavocation

    Seems they knowingly committed an ILLEGAL act. If they embezzled money wouldn’t they be kicked off the council? Citizens shouldn’t have to vote out criminals. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/musiqueforlife Jennifer Beahan

    I’m trying to figure out how a Family Dollar Store and its adjacent land could be worth $1,200,000!!!!


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