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A new legal landscape faces churches that want to build.

For over three hundred years, church steeples have stood as landmarks in the center of cities and villages across this country. Today, however, many municipal officials are doing whatever they can to keep churches out of town.

In 1936 Edward M. Bassett, a principal author of the first modern municipal zoning law adopted by the City of New York in 1916, wrote a book titled Zoning. For years city planners regarded it as a classic text on the municipal regulation of land.

When that landmark resolution was drafted, Bassett wrote, it did not occur to its creators "that there was the remotest possibility churches, schools, and hospitals could properly be excluded from any districts."

In 1949, however, the California Court of Appeals ruled that municipalities could ban churches from residential areas. Both the California State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court refused to review that decision. Today many communities reject church applications for building permits in a residentially ...

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