Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Delays In Sale of Historic Church Support Free Exercise, But Not RLUIPA, Claim

In California-Nevada Annual Conference of the Methodist Church v. City and County of San Francisco, (ND CA, Nov. 24, 2014), a California federal district court resolved two rather interesting issues defining the scope of religious liberty protection. The suit grows out of ten-years of legal delays-- including attempted landmarking-- imposed by San Francisco on the sale of an historic Methodist Church to condominium developers who planned to demolish the church building.The court rejected the Methodist Conference's RLUIPA claims, holding that the sale of the property to commercial developers is not a "religious exercise" under RLUIPA:
The fact that the proceeds from the sale were to be used to fund the Conference’s religious efforts does not transform the sale transaction itself into "religious exercise."
However the court refused to dismiss the Conference's 1st Amendment free exercise claim:
Unlike the Conference’s RLUIPA claim, which specifically hinged on the denial of the demolition permit and resultant inability to recoup profits on the land sale, the Conference’s First Amendment claim is based upon a broader notion of unequal treatment – generally, that the City embroiled the Conference in bureaucratic proceedings, much of which were unnecessary, in an effort to prevent the Conference engaging in religious exercise.