Supreme Judicial Court to Hear Acton CPA Lawsuit Oral Arguments on September 7th

The Lawsuit in Acton Advances to the SJC in September(Updated) September 6, 2017: If you are interested in watching the hearing live, please use this link to access the livestream. The CPA lawsuit hearing begins at 9am. The hearing will also be archived so you can watch it anytime.

Additionally, Boston 25 News recently aired a report on the case. To view this feature, please click here.

August 14, 2017: As we have reported throughout the year, a group of local taxpayers, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed a lawsuit against the Town of Acton in an attempt to stop CPA preservation projects on two historic church buildings. On Thursday, September 7th, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) will hear oral arguments on the case, and a decision is likely by the end of the year. This is a case worth watching, as the SJC’s decision will affect CPA projects in all towns in the Commonwealth.

In the preliminary injunction hearing last September, Justice Leila Kern listened to oral arguments from both sides on and quickly issued her ruling just over a week later. The court ruled that the purpose of the CPA grants was not to aid the Churches, but specifically for "the acquisition, preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration of historic resources." Additionally, the court found that there was no credible evidence that the grants under CPA were "economically or politically abusive or unfair," arguing that the CPA funds were issued without regard to the applicant's makeup or purpose. Furthermore, they found that the Town of Acton's issue of the grants was made after an assessment of how to best use public funds to "effectuate a legitimate public purpose." For these reasons, the court decided it was unlikely that the Plaintiffs would succeed with the lawsuit and denied the request for the preliminary injunction.

American United appealed the decision and asked for the case to bypass the appeals court and be heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The SJC accepted the case, leading to the oral arguments scheduled for September 7th. Both parties laid out their arguments in a “Memorandum of Law,” which can be viewed in our “Further Resources” section below. 

Because this case has the potential to impact all CPA projects across the Commonwealth, the Coalition felt it was important to weigh in on this case. In conjunction with the Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Association, the Coalition signed on to an amicus brief sent to the SJC, detailing support for the use of CPA funds for historic preservation projects. Both organizations urge the SJC to affirm that the CPA grants were made for the legitimate, public, and secular purpose of historic preservation. We are grateful to Attorney Thomas A. Mullen of Lynnfield for handling all the details of our amicus.

Please see the links below for the additional coverage of the case, as well as documents related to the upcoming hearing. We will continue to provide coverage of any new developments.

Further Resources

>> Defendants' Memorandum of Law

>> Appellants' Memorandum of Law

>> Overview of Acton Lawsuit (The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty website)

>> Video from Boston 25 News Coverage of the Acton Lawsuit

>> Amicus Brief Filed by the Community Preservation Coalition and Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Association

>> Amicus Brief Filed by Historic Preservation Organizations

>> Amicus Brief Filed by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

>> Amicus Brief Filed by The National Trust for Historic Preservation

>> Amicus Brief Filed by the Attorney General

>> Previous Coalition Coverage: Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3