Special Rights For Churches
Dan’s already highlighted this story about opposition in Hoover (a white-flight suburb of B’ham) to a proposed Muslim center. The stated reason for the opposition is fears of increased traffic in a residential area. We can all guess what the real reason probably is. Let’s assume, though, that these folks would be just as upset if something like Six Flags Over Jesus wanted to build in the neighborhood. They just do not want the increased noise, traffic, lights, and etc. that come with a big church, of any type.
So what could the good neighborhood folks do to stop it? Nothing, other than hoping the church will on its own find another location.
What about zoning laws, you ask? If the area is strictly residential, won’t that prohibit the church? Or couldn’t they change the regs so as to prohibit things like a church? No, and no. If it was any other type of business, the city would be free to protect the integrity of its neighborhood through zoning laws. Thanks to something called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, however, churches get special protection from zoning laws. To apply a zoning law to a church – a law to which every other business and person is subject – the city has to show that the law is essential to a compelling city interest. That’s called strict scrutiny. It comes from ConLaw, and anyone even passingly familiar with it knows that strict scrutiny is almost never satisfied. In other words, if the church wants to build bad enough go to court, the church is going to win.
And if they win, guess who pays the attorney’s fees? The city.
In short, Hooverites, I hope you like your new neighbors.