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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Breached?

The Bush Administration is clever and persistent, you have to admit: They've picked a vulnerable spot in liberal doctrines about the wall separating church and state to insert the wedge of government funding. Boston's Old North Church, an Episcopal church with undeniable historical significance and thousands of tourist visits each year, applied for a $317,000 government grant to help pay for repairs to its windows. And here's the point of vulnerability: Honest liberals recognize that not only are many old churches distinctively important as "secular" historic landmarks — like Old North, where the two lanterns that launched Paul Revere's ride were hung — or as architectural landmarks — like, say, the Unitarian Universalist "Old Ship Church" in Hingham, Massachusetts, the only 17th-century Puritan meetinghouse still in use, or King's Chapel in Boston, also Unitarian, or Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, another Unitarian Universalist church. Honest liberals recognize that many churches are profoundly important to American history as religious sites.

So do they qualify for some kinds of government funding? I think they might, if the rules for such funds were carefully restricted. (Of course, Bush must see a less exalted payoff for his sudden interest in culture and history, like votes from the Christian Right.) It will be particularly interesting to watch Unitarians twitch on this issue, since they tend to oppose any blurring of the line between church and state — and happen to own a considerable number of significant historic buildings that could use some additional grant money.

Read up: In shift, U.S. to offer grants to historic churches (New York Times 5.28.03, reg req'd) ... Old North Church grant marks shift in federal policy (Boston Globe 5.28.03) ... Religious voters in Bush's prayers (Newsweek 5.28.03)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 29 May 2003 at 12:11 AM

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