Today we had the opportunity to argue the parameters of RLUIPA before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri in the case of St. John Vianney High School v. City of Kirkwood, Missouri. In this case, the City of Kirkwood approved the renovation of an athletic field for the High School on its campus and the installation of new lights for the baseball diamond. Based on the approval, the school purchased and installed the lights, which cost close to $300,000, and began scheduling the field for use in the evenings for baseball, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee and other sports.
One neighbor complained, the City “investigated” the complaint and concluded that the athletic field lights that they had previously approved could be in violation of a local ordinance with respect to “light spillage,” on adjoining properties. The school made several attempts to mitigate the issue, yet the one neighbor was not satisfied unless the lights came down. As a result, the City ordered the lights to remain off. When the School “fixed” the problem, the City amended its zoning ordinance to make sure that the School could never resolve the lighting issues. At the same time, the City took no action action against the public High School who installed similar lights at their athletic field and had identical neighborhood complaints.
At issue before the Court was whether the use of the athletic field is a “religious exercise” of the all boys high school. The question was really how do the men of Vianney encounter God on the athletic field.
The record was clear that the Vianney students play sports with secular students and demonstrate His presence through our actions on & off the field. While religious parents will bring in their children to religious schools, attracting non/religious kids through athletics is key to satisfy part of the mission of the school to reach the world.
The Court inquired of why athletics was so important to the religious nature of the school, and the answer is simply, everything they do is for religious exercise: whether it is science, math or athletics, religious activity is taught and encouraged.
The facts in the record supported the claim of religious exercise, including:
The Court took the matter under advisement and will issuing a written opinion within the next several months addressing this issue. We look forward to continuing to work with our friends at St. John Vianney so that the athletic fields can be used for all of its intended purposes.
This will be the first decision out of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals addressing the land use and zoning part of RLUIPA. Therefore, we anticipate that it will be several months before we have a published decision.
If your school has religious land use, please contact the professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC to help guide you through the planning and litigation process.
Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with experience serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.
In 2015, Hope Rising Community Church experienced extreme opposition, the kind that would force it to close its doors and leave behind the families and youth it was so passionate about reaching. As the lead pastor I felt helpless, inferior and as if I had no […]Read More
Dalton & Tomich’s assistance in our RLUIPA matter has paved the way for our church to continue serving the community and for new churches in the area to thrive in the future. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your stand for religious […]Read More
The Urban Church will be forever grateful to Dalton & Tomich plc for navigating it through a difficult land use issue. Let them give you honest and caring advice because that’s exactly what they’ll do.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC defended a complicated case at a church we insure. Not only is the firm professional, they understand how church business runs and work well within church leadership.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC helped us immensely in the areas of litigation and negotiation! Their professionalism and understanding of church policy helped our church be victorious in a modern day religious land use battle. RLUIPA Religious Land Use Case: Lighthouse Community Church of GodRead More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC serves as General Counsel for the 144 churches within the Church of God in Michigan. The firm provides the legal expertise we need in dealing with the issues that arise during the course of fulfilling our ministry.Read More
I met Dan Dalton during a dark time for our church. He was recommended as the leading RLUIPA attorney in the nation. He demonstrated wisdom, expertise, a gentle nature, a calming inter-relational skill, genuineness, and a humble demeanor, while at the same time, being sharp, […]Read More
Mr. Dalton’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. His personal interest in helping our church went “above and beyond” just the call of duty. His understanding of both legal and spiritual matters seems to uniquely […]Read More