It's an old adage that politics makes for strange bedfellows. Perhaps the latest example of this might be liberal California senator Barbara Boxer's support of the California Mission Preservation Act, a bill signed into law last week by the president. The Act sets aside $10 million over five years as funds for the restoration and preservation of California's twenty-one missions, their artwork, artifacts, and indigenous plants. Boxer emphasizes on her website that aside from their historical significance, the missions bring in substantial income for local businesses from tourists visiting the state. The Chicago Tribune offered a helpful comparison on that point—the missions bring more money into the state's economy than any other public attraction, excepting Disneyland.

All well and good, but there's a catch … one that Ms. Boxer has apparently decided to overlook. Nineteen of the twenty-one missions are owned by the Roman Catholic Church and, moreover, have active congregations. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in a federal court last week, asserting the bill violates the Constitution. Says Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director, "If this type of assistance is upheld, every house of worship in America that is deemed 'historic' could demand upkeep and repair courtesy of the taxpayer. The Constitution simply does not allow the government to force a taxpayer to subsidize the maintenance of houses of worship. That's a core principle of separation of church and state."

It's a contention the Franciscan friars who founded these missions would have thought strange— yet also strangely familiar. They operated not under the aegis of a republican government bent on accommodating the ...

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