After Atheists Voice Dissent, Tucson City Council Rescinds $1,100,000 Gift to Catholic Church

Here’s one way to fix local economies: Put the Freedom From Religion Foundation in charge. They just saved the city of Tucson, Arizona $1,100,000.

The backstory is this: Back in July, the Tucson City Council voted 5-2 to use $1,100,000 of taxpayer funds to restore a building owned by the Catholic Church.

The Marist building is a historical landmark in the city because it’s the “tallest unfired adobe building” in the state, but the Catholic Church hasn’t used it since 2002, and the building may not even be worth restoring. Even if the city restored it, it would belong to the Church and not the city of Tucson. Shady, no?

The Marist Building

Tom Danehy of the Tucson Weekly was brutal in his critique of the place:

The place is a dump, and not all that attractive as dumps go. If a meteor were to hit it, it would do about $200,000 worth of improvements. And, oh yeah, people keep referring to it as “Arizona’s only surviving three-story adobe.” There’s a reason for that — all of the other ones have fallen down already.

If the Church wants to restore it, why aren’t they investing any of their own money into it? Maybe because they don’t really care about the place. But if it’s on the taxpayers’ dime, why not?!

That brings us to FFRF.

In early August, they sent a letter (PDF) to Mayor Jonathan Rothschild urging him and the city council to reconsider their vote — after all, given all the money the Diocese of Tucson has and how much they’ve spent on other pieces of property they own (as well as sexual abuse payouts), they’re the ones who ought to be covering this bill if they care about the Marist building.

The message this Council has repeatedly communicated to the Diocese and that you reinforced on July 10, is that churches will be rewarded if they neglect their duties as landowners and community members and fail to maintain their historic buildings. On behalf of our tucson members we ask that you examine the above facts carefully and reconsider the misguided funding vote.

Councilman Steve Kozachik agrees — he was one of the two city council members to vote against the restoration:

“The Catholic Church has neglected [the Marist building] for a decade. If they were serious about this building, they could cancel one of their pro-life ad blitzes and pay for it in a heartbeat.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, there was good news. On September 11th, City Manager Richard Miranda let everyone know that the city would no longer be funding this project:

The Diocese of Tucson has informed City staff that they wish to retain ownership of the Marist College so that it can be used by them and the local parish. Based on the Diocese’ desire to retain ownership, the overall intent of the Mayor and Council direction of July 10, 2012 and the specific conditions that were part of the direction to staff can not be accommodated. I have instructed staff to take no further action regarding a potential agreement for the use of CDBG funds for the stabilization of the Marist College.”

The money will now be reallocated to things like road and water tower repairs.

The credit may not fully go to FFRF here, but who knows if that’s what it took to finally tip the scales in the other direction:

“This is a major victory for taxpayers and for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It pays to complain, or rather in this case, our complaint stops an unconstitutional payment.”

And a lawsuit wasn’t even needed. Victory all around!


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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.


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