Religious institutions may be more vulnerable to takeover through eminent domain after Thursday's (June 23) Supreme Court ruling that gives local governments greater power to seize properties for private economic development, according to some religious and civil rights advocacy groups.
Churches, mosques, synagogues and other nonprofit religious entities are considered especially at threat because they generate no tax revenue for cities, while developments like hotels or shopping malls are seen to be economic boons for urban renewal projects.
"Because all houses of worship are tax-exempt, they will continue to be attractive targets for seizure by revenue-hungry local governments," said Jared Leland, media and legal counsel of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The Becket Fund is a nonprofit, interfaith legal organization that advocates for the free expression of religion.
The Becket Fund, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rutherford Institute and many other groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of seven residents of New London, Conn., who were fighting the city's decision to raze their homes to allow private developers to build a commercial complex.
Leland warned that taking land and property strictly for economic interests is a dangerous slippery slope, and said religious organizations threatened by this decision offer communities services and aid that are immeasurable by monetary standards.
"Religion is something that may not have an economic impact on communities, but does have a tremendous social impact on communities." Leland said. "Religious institutions should be welcomed and protected in the land-use matter."
John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said public furor may protect ...1