(Brendan Clarey, Liberty Headlines) A Christian school from Columbus, Ohio, filed for an appeal for a court’s decision preventing the school from using a building they own because of land zoning regulations, which they claim is religious discrimination.
In 2010 Tree of Life Christian Schools bought a building in Upper Arlington, a city outside Columbus, that would allow them to teach all their students in one location instead of four different places.
The city of Upper Arlington would not let them use the building because of zoning laws that designate the area for office space.
The school filed a lawsuit in 2011 against Upper Arlington, legally represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, claiming the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects individuals and religious organizations from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws, according to the Department of Justice.
Tree of Life claims that the city discriminates against them because other organizations use buildings outside its zoning laws, even if they create less tax revenue.
“No city should use its zoning laws to engage in religious discrimination under the guise of maximizing tax revenue,” ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley said in a press release Tuesday. “The city’s zoning law allows daycare facilities and other similar uses of equal size that provide less tax revenue than even Tree of Life’s school. Federal law prohibits zoning discrimination against religious land use; therefore, Tree of Life should be allowed to use its building for the schooling purposes it has long intended.”
In 2013, Tree of Life tried to rezone their property so that they could use the space, but Upper Arlington refused to budge.
Upper Arlington’s zoning law, known as the “the Master Plan,” focuses “considerable emphasis on the need to cultivate the commercial use of land in order for the City to be financially stable,” according to court documents in the most recent decision against the school.
The city’s planning staff argues the rezoning would negatively impact potential economic growth.
“Staff believes that the proposed rezoning is in direct opposition to numerous core Master Plan goals and objectives,” wrote Chad Gibson, Upper Arlington’s Senior Planning Officer, in a staff report to City Council. “The proposed zoning change would eliminate nearly 16 acres of extremely limited ORC–zoned ground, which will reduce the amount of office and research space within the City.”
They continue to describe why a school would be bad for land designated for office space.
“A K–12 school has inherent characteristics which can be intrusive and destructive to an office park. Traffic, including school bus circulation, loading and unloading, can be challenging for an area to accommodate,” Gibson’s report continues.
“After–school activities such as band and theater productions can also bring large number of parents and students to an area, often necessitating overflow parking demands,” Gibson says later. “Outdoor events such as band practice can create noise impacts for office workers who are attempting to do business and/or serve clients.”
Judge George C. Smith ruled against Tree of Life Christian Schools about a month ago because Tree of Life did not prove the existence of discrimination.
“Plaintiff, a religious school, is treated the same as every other nonreligious assembly or institution, such as secular schools, that do not maximize tax revenue as they are all prohibited from the ORC Office and Research District,” Smith wrote in the opinion. “Therefore, regardless of what test is applied, there is no nonreligious assembly or institution similarly situated that is being treated better than Plaintiff.”Click here for reuse options!
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