Mar 16 2006

Eminent Domain vs Churches in Long Beach

Published by admin at 1:56 am under Uncategorized

(Minor correction, there is only one church in Long Beach, and 7 churches elsewhere undergoing similar treatment.- LSU)

Last year the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the Kelo decision determined that the city of New London Connecticut could seize property under eminent domain to allow construction as a part of an economic development.  The Court found that the increased tax revenue and jobs constituted public good, the standard normally required.  The meaning was very clear, since a luxury condo has a higher per square foot value then an ordinary housing track, then the government can seize the homes and reap the tax windfall.

People were aghast, because the fear was that government now had a blank check to take anything they wanted. 

At the time I was fairly angry, and wondered how far this would go.  I even went as far as to wonder if could someday be used against churches, because they have no real tax advantage to the city, whereas many of them sit upon prime real estate that I am sure many cities are eying most greedily.  My friends dismissed my dears as alarmist, certain that religious freedom would be upheld.

I hate to be right again.

Last year the Supreme Court issued a wildly unpopular decision that enabled governments to seize property for no other reason than economic development. A recent New York Times article, which has been archived, says that almost every state legislature in the country is advancing bills or constitutional amendments to limit the spread of this ruling. Despite the tenuous legal state that the ruling (Kelo v. New London) is in, a Long Beach government is using it to replace a church with an apartment complex. Sigh.

The Long Beach, California Redevelopment Agency voted 6-0 March 13 to condemn the Filipino Baptist Fellowship’s church building, ostensibly because it does not produce enough economic benefit for the city.

Because the Filipino Baptist Fellowship is just one of eight churches that governments are currently using eminent domain against, I wish that reporters were all over this. Unfortunately, it seems that print coverage has been more or less limited. Let’s look at how the Associated Press characterized the issue which, I’ll note, was very similar to the way the Long Beach Press-Telegram put it:

We are a church. We are helpless. We have no place to go,” church pastor Roem Agustin said.

But redevelopment agency bureau manager Barbara Kaiser said the church was offered 13 alternative sites and the agency offered to pay for moving costs.

Well, if you’re like me and think that private property owners should have the right to keep their land no matter how much the government wants it for a baseball stadium or condominium developments, it doesn’t matter if the church doesn’t like the government’s offer. And if you’re like me and think this goes double for houses of worship, it really doesn’t matter if the church doesn’t like the government’s offer. But most people would see this and think the church was being unreasonable. Is that the end of the story? Is there any other information readers should have? The Baptist Press, which has covered this story well, spoke with the church’s attorney:

“Well, let me tell you about the properties they’ve offered. Most of them were vacant lots,” he told BP. “It’s a little hard to hold a church service in a vacant lot. Several of them were leases, not buildings to own. [The church members] own this one, and they want to have a church that they own so they’re not at the whim of a landlord.

“So you take all those off the table. Almost all of the others were in other parts of the redevelopment area, where they could be forced to move out a couple of years down the road when the city gets around to developing that block,” he added. . . .

Some of the alternative sites the city offered the church included a bar and two gas stations. Most of the properties had no parking or less parking than the church has at its current location, and there was no guarantee that the city would give the church a conditional use permit without ensuring the parking was up to code, Eastman said.

“None of these were suitable alternatives because they wouldn’t have been able to have their church,” he said. “Giving you 13 different addresses doesn’t mean they’ve given you 13 different suitable alternatives.”

This level of explanation should be available in the wire or local news reports. But, more importantly, this broader story should be getting more coverage. 

I agree.

Frankly this is outrageous.  It’s a classic example of government run amuck, and I just do not understand why there is not more outrage.  Thanks to the elitist decision of the SCOTUS, apparently anything goes.

Will it ever happen here?  Oh surely not…right?

And someone tell me, where is the ACLU to defend the the churches? 

At least Justice Souter will be spared the pain of losing his property to freedy developers and politicians…his home is safe.

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