Thursday, June 21, 2018

City Violated Establishment Clause By Acquiring Cross Site As Park Land

In Lions Club of Albany, California v. City of Albany, (ND CA, June 15, 2018), a California federal district court held that a city violated the Establishment Clause by acquiring for a public park a 1.1 acre parcel of land that includes a large cross. Originally the cross was on private property, and the Lion's Club held an easement to maintain the 20-foot high cross and to illuminate it each Christmas and Easter.  The city acquired the 1.1 acres along with adjacent land in exchange for approving a high rise project nearby. The court said in part:
While the City portrays itself as a victim of the easement, the fact is that the City must bear responsibility. To repeat, the City could have rejected the deal, burdened as it was by the easement. The First Amendment ran against the City, not the private parties. Once the City accepted title and began converting the land into a public park, it then could have solved its Establishment Clause problem by condemning the easement (and paying its value) under its power of eminent domain, selling off, if feasible, a subdivided parcel containing the cross to a private party (and keeping the rest for a park), or by possibly imposing zoning restrictions against all religious displays on public land.