Friday, August 24, 2012

Ban those churches!

A short time ago, I warned readers not to get suckered by the 'pastor jailed for holding Bible study' case. The government's use of land use and zoning laws in this Phoenix dispute seemed to me to be a legitimate use of the police powers of the state to control land use. I noted at the time that occasionally one finds a case where the state uses such constitutional powers unreasonably and illegally.

I suspect that a current case in California wine country illustrates the latter. The hoity toity wine country citizenry includes not a few who believe that churches should simply be banned from the area and one of the proposals under consideration does just that.

“Churches and schools do not help the future growth of wine country,” one winery owner complained, supporting the government's proposal to ban churches from the area.

One church, Calvary Chapel, has a keen interest in new land use laws because they have purchased adjacent land for a school and is concerned that they will be prevented from using that land.
 [Calvary Chapel] Pastor Clark Van Wick said Tuesday he met with a few vintners in an attempt to appease them but was told, “We don’t want your kind out here.”

I suspect that this comment will be used in any future court case. Calvary Chapel has threatened suit over the matter.
A possible lawsuit would be filed in federal court and would allege that the county is violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that enforces the Constitutional right of houses of worship to be free from discriminatory land use regulations. Tyler says the law guarantees that religious assemblies must be treated on equal terms as non-religious assemblies in land-use regulations.
 Our wonderful First Amendment does involve some tension, some balance, and often some confusion. There are difficult cases but my reading of the Phoenix case and the Wine Country case is that these are both reasonably clear - one on each side of the matter.

Incidentally, there is a winery not too far from me and a little church close to it. The church has relocated because the winery (and other things) made its land so valuable that they easily sold out and moved to a better facility nearby.Maybe the indignant vintners should just make Calvary Chapel an offer they cannot refuse.

That's the American way.

1 comment:

Lee said...

The idea of a community that doesn't want churches isn't really all that new. Before we left the Houston area, there were issues with some developers of planned communities in the suburbs because the zoning was either residential or retail and if churches wanted to build a facility, they had to buy land in the retail area and build according to the commercial codes. The churches had to build in the commercial areas because they didn't want the noise and traffic in the residential area. They also restricted street parking which made it difficult to have a small group gathering in a home. You had to get a permit to allow people to temporarily park in the vicinity of your house.