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Victory in South Bend

Daniel Bullard-Bates,
ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
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September 8, 2011

Yesterday, a federal court decision barred the City of South Bend, Indiana, from unconstitutionally donating land bought with taxpayer funds to a private religious school. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Indiana, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The City of South Bend purchased a $1.2 million parcel of land, planning to give it to St. Joseph's High School so that it could build a football stadium. According to the Student-Parent Handbook, all athletic practices and competitions at this stadium would be preceded and/or concluded by a prayer. St. Joseph's requires all of its students to receive a Catholic education, including courses in theology.

The City's million-dollar gift to the parochial school, the court reasoned, "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." Quoting the Supreme Court, the district court concluded that the proposed transfer therefore violated the basic constitutional principle "that government may not demonstrate a preference for one particular sect or creed."

The ACLU applauds the district court's decision in this case, and the taxpayers of South Bend can rest assured that their money isn't being used to pay for private religious education.

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