In Taylor v. Town of Cabot, (VT Sup. Ct., Oct. 6, 2017), the Vermont Supreme Court vacated a preliminary injunction that a trial court had issued to block a municipal grant to a historic church for repairs to its building. The grant came from funds that originated with the federal government but now belonged to the town to use consistent with federal regulations. The court held that plaintiffs have municipal taxpayer standing to challenge the grant under the state constitution’s prohibition on compelled support of any place of worship (Chapter I, Article Three). In remanding the case for further proceedings, the court said in part:The fact that the ultimate recipient of these funds is a church does not itself establish a violation of the Compelled Support Clause; the critical question is whether the funds will support worship. Chittenden Town Sch. Dist., 169 Vt. at 325, 738 A.2d at 550. In fact, denying the UCC secular benefits available to other like organizations might raise concerns under the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution. To meet these concerns, plaintiffs will have to demonstrate that painting the church building and assessing its sills is more like funding devotional training for future clergy, as in Locke, than paying for a new playground surface on church property, as in Trinity Lutheran. Specified repairs to the church building itself admittedly fall somewhere between these two poles. In making their case, plaintiffs must persuade the court either that the Compelled Support Clause categorically precludes the use of public funds to pay for any repairs to a building that serves as a place of worship, without regard to the breadth and neutrality of the program pursuant to which the funding is provided, or that the specific repairs funded under this grant are prohibited. The first proposition is legally questionable; the second is not supported by the record.
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