In the case Wirtz v. City of South Bend, a US District court judge ruled that the city of South Bend Indiana couldn’t give away city owned land to a catholic high school. It considered the give away a violation of the first amendment.
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. agreed with Americans United and the ACLU that the planned land gift would violate the separation of church and state.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “South Bend officials made a serious constitutional misstep when they voted to use taxpayer money to support a religious school. I’m glad the court put a stop to this ill-considered scheme.”
The three civil liberties groups filed suit after the South Bend Common Council voted 5-4 to spend $1.2 million to buy property that was to be transferred to the Catholic Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend for free. The land would have been used by St. Joseph’s High School to build a football stadium.
The court ruled that the land give away was a violation because:
The proposed Family Dollar transaction has the appearance of putting adherents and nonadherents on different footing, 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 high school. City treasury funds are, by their nature, limited, and a significant expenditure in favor of one project denies those funds to other projects, or, at least, amounts to a decision not to retain those funds in the City treasury. To the adherents, namely the supporters of St. Joseph’s High School and the Diocese, this below-market transfer of real estate could be considered an endorsement of their undertaking to rebuild and expand the high school. A well-informed and reasonable nonadherent would see the below-market transfer as a direct endorsement of a particular religion.
Direct funding going to a religious group is always a violation.