Friday, December 18, 2015

Burn In Hell

First Congregational Church on Main Street is one of many historic buildings in Amherst

In their first meeting since receiving over $2 million in funding requests the Community Preservation Act Committee already started digging in with an overall review of the 13 proposals.

Over the next few months each proposal will be formally presented to them by petitioners at a public meeting, although there was talk last night about eliminating some that stand little chance of garnering their approval.

For instance, the Committee was cool to the request from the First Congregational Church for $357,647 for a fire suppression system and Chair Mary Streeter said she had already received two letters opposing the project.

Besides the enormous amount of money one member worried it would set a precedent and soon the CPAC would be flooded with requests for just such a system.  He pointed out Amherst has a lot of historic structures.

Another liaison questioned the "partner" aspect of the proposal wondering if they just randomly picked something on their wish list that might fall under CPAC jurisdiction for the town to fund, while they pay for elevator, electrical system upgrades and added restrooms.

Select Board member Andy Steinberg pointed out the Committee did fund the Goodwin Memorial  Zion Church last year, although a lot smaller request ($25,000), so separation of Church & State is not an issue.

But Mary Streeter quickly pointed out Town Meeting, after CPAC gave it their blessing, voted down $8,000 for repairs to North Church in the heart of North Amherst.

 The Evergreens (bottom), Dickinson Homestead (top right)

The parallel $200,000  request from the  Emily Dickinson Museum for a fire suppression system in the Evergreens next door to the Dickinson Homestead was also not overly enthusiastically received.

Chair Mary Streeter wondered if the unknown donor who planned to match the CPA money was perhaps the owner of the building, Amherst College, who is the town's largest landowner with an endowment surpassing $2 billion.

Ms. Streeter was also unhappy the request proposal never mentioned the previous CPA money ($15,000) donated to them in their background report to the committee which she thought a tad ungrateful.

Members were also concerned over the Museum charging an entry fee and wondered if they did donate this money would Amherst residents be given free entry in perpetuity?

Other members pointed out the Dickinson name should be such that donated funding could be found from other sources.

Funding requests for FY17 total $2,125,520 and Comptroller Sonia Aldrich verified the current balance in the CPAC account --  with about 20% of that representing state matching funds -- stands at $1,778,747 so the Committee doesn't exactly have money to burn.


Dr. Ed said...

I told you that it was a bad precedent to fund the U/U window.

You've actually got the Church & State thing backwards though -- it's favoring one religion over another that's prohibited, and having failed to fund one Congregational Church, if you refuse to fund the other one, the UCC (United Church of Christ, their denomination) can sue on First Amendment grounds and will win.

You didn't have to fund any of the religions, you didn't have to pay for internal repairs/improvements to any of the churches -- but once you did, you became obligated to fund them all.

And the true wild card in all of this is the Blane Amendment -- the more I think about this, CPA money can not be used to repair/improve a church, even something on the exterior (e.g. steeple, clock), no matter how overwhelming the public interest/benefit may be. Even if the safety of the general public were involved, I think the Blane Amendment would preclude it.

Larry, remember what the Blane Amendment was intended to do -- the Protestants didn't want any public money going to the Catholic parochial schools, the explicit intent was to preclude any public money from going to a church, period. Now it was the Catholic Church the "Know Nothings" didn't want the money going to, but that doesn't matter, the Massachusetts Constitution prohibits it from going to any.

Dr. Ed said...

I write this in a neutral manner pointing out an irony -- Larry's "Burn in Hell" headline above a picture of the Gay Pride flag hanging from the belfry of what *is* a church that was built by Puritans.

The Congregational Church is the Puritan Church -- until 1855, it was taxpayer-funded, with a vote to hire/fire the minister often being the most contentious item on the town meeting agenda. That church was formed as part of the creation of the town -- to become a town back then, you had to show that you had the taxbase to support a minister, and that you had found one willing to move to your town.

Amherst College was formed by a group of Harvard professors who thought that Harvard had lost God -- that Harvard was "going to Hell" and hence went out into the wilderness to form their own college.

These were folks who took the Old Testament seriously, all that "thou shalt not" stuff, not just Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 -- although I think we can safely say that those two passages were universally accepted.

I can't help but wonder what those folk would make of a gay pride flag on the church -- there are people today, in other parts of this country, who would say that Amherst should "Burn in Hell" for that -- I've met a few of them.

Anonymous said...

Amherst thinks too much of itself.

Anonymous said...

The separation of Church and State is absolute under the U.S. Constitution, no money , especially public tax money, may be spent for religion.