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October 02, 2018

Drinker Biddle Files Petition with U.S. Supreme Court in Historic Preservation Grants Pro Bono Case

Arguing that “there is nothing religious about a slate roof,” Drinker Biddle partner Ken Wilbur and associate Justin Ginter filed a Petition for Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a dozen Morris County churches. The petition seeks review of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s April 2018 decision in FFRF v. Morris County, which held that the New Jersey Constitution categorically excludes churches from historic preservation programs.

As part of Drinker Biddle’s Public Interest initiative, in early 2016, Ken and Justin successfully opposed FFRF’s effort to enjoin payment of grants already approved, and have continued to defend the right of the churches to participate in the program every step of the way through the New Jersey court system and now to the United States Supreme Court. 

The churches, all recognized landmarks anchoring the Morristown Green and other historic districts in Morris County, were awarded County preservation grants through a rigorous competitive process based on well-established secular criteria. 

The certiorari petition relies on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which held that the right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is violated if qualified applicants for a government program are excluded from participation because they are religious. 

The case has been followed closely by the local press, Law360, CBS News and The New York Times. The Becket Fund, the non-profit, public interest law firm that brought the Hobby Lobby case recently decided by the Court, now represents the County and has filed its own Petition in the case.

Read media coverage of the case below.

"Morris County, Churches Ask US Supreme Court to Take Up Preservation Grants Case"The New Jersey Law Journal

“Morris County asks U.S. Supreme Court to overturn state court, allow historic grants to churches” – MorristownGreen.com

“Should public dollars pay to fix old churches? N.J. county wants the Supreme Court to decide” – NJ.com

“Morris County Petitions U.S. Supreme Court on Historic Preservation of Religious Institutions”Parsippany Focus

Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances.

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