The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a California county not to gift land to a local church group.
Placer County is considering donating 26 acres of land to Placer Rescue Mission to construct a "campus shelter" for the county's homeless population, a concerned local resident informed FFRF. It is indeed laudable to combat homelessness, but Placer Rescue Mission is a religious organization, and the shelter will include a chapel. The county's proposed grant to the mission would violate both the U.S. and California Constitutions, FFRF informs county officials.
"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from financially supporting churches," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes to the county's legal counsel. "The California Constitution also explicitly prohibits the county from donating real estate to churches."
County property should never be transferred to religious institutions for less than fair market value, FFRF emphasizes. Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and no religion to support a particular expression of worship.
"No matter how seemingly noble the purpose, a county can't just gift a big parcel of property to a religious institution," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "There are plenty of secular organizations doing similar work where the First Amendment of the Constitution is not at stake."
FFRF is seeking written assurances from Placer County that it is not going to bestow land on Placer Rescue Mission or any other church.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog organization that has more than 26,000 members and chapters all over the country, including 3,300-plus in California and a chapter in Sacramento.