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Letter in Support of Brief in Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette v. Assessors
Supreme Judicial Court
Clerk for the Commonwealth
John Adams Courthouse Suite 1400
Boston, MA 02108
Re: The Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette v. Board of Assessors of Attleboro (SJC-12021)
I write on behalf of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers) ("NEYM") in connection with the above-referenced case pending before the Supreme Judicial Court, to join in and support the amicus curiae brief submitted by the Interfaith group including Massachusetts Council of Churches and others. While NEYM is not listed as amici in the brief, NEYM nevertheless incorporates, supports and joins in the discussion and argument set forth in the brief.
NEYM is a network of individuals, congregations and regional associations supporting the Quaker faith communities in the six New England states. First gathering in 1661 in Rhode Island following the execution of Quaker martyr Mary Dyer on Boston Common, New England Friends have suffered for, contributed to, and benefited greatly from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' long tradition of respect for the separation of Church and State. NEYM's 89 local "meetings" (congregations), with their greatest concentration in Eastern Massachusetts, share a deep history and appreciation for the value of religious freedom.
In our faith tradition as Friends (Quakers), all of Creation is to be experienced as sacramental, and so no particular space—religious or otherwise—is by itself to be considered any more sacred than any other. We draw our inspiration from Jesus' declaration in the Gospel of John that "worship...in Spirit and in Truth" is to happen not in a particular place, but in the heart of the believer, and wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name.
Quakers seek to practice this kind of sacramental living, recognizing that any space or activity can be experienced as hallowed ground or as religious activity if there is an openness to the guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, our religious spaces are built and maintained for utility and are frequently used for a wide range of functions, including service programs which, while seemingly without explicit religious content, are still understood as an integral part of the spiritual life and religious witness of the Religious Society of Friends.
Education in its many disciplines and forms has long been a vital religious exercise for Friends, and supporting Quaker schooling for all ages makes up an important dimension in the life and religious practice of many Quaker meetings. For us, there is no way to spiritually separate the land and buildings used to support this work of education from space used for gatherings for worship. One obvious example: In several places in Massachusetts, including the Cambridge Friends School, the same spaces used during the week for education of Quaker and non-Quaker children are used for worship at other times.
From the perspective of NEYM, requiring members of a faith community to distinguish between secular and religious activities according to a standard inconsistent with their experience of divine guidance would mark a dramatic reversal of religious liberty, and evoke chilling references to the conditions of persecution that led to Quakers' first fleeing to New England seeking religious freedom in the 1600s.
NEYM, as a member of the MCC, shares the deep concerns the MCC and the other amici have articulated regarding the recent rulings of the Appellate Tax Board ("ATB") with respect to the Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette, which we believe raise serious Constitutional concerns and practical problems for religious organizations, worshippers and religious freedom. Together with the other amici, we respectfully request that the Court will take into account our perspective as it hears and decides this case.
On behalf of NEYM, I respectfully request that a copy of this letter be circulated to the Justices deciding the above-referenced case.
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
New England Yearly Meeting of Friends
By: Noah Baker Merrill