Faithandthelaw's Blog

The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

National government, religious groups join battle over Boulder church growth plan

Posted by faithandthelaw on March 9, 2010

By Monte Whaley
The Denver Post
Posted: 03/09/2010 01:00:00 AM MST

Lawyers Monday argued over the expansion plans for a Boulder County church that have become so controversial national religious and government organizations have been drawn into the fight.

The three-judge 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard from attorneys representing Niwot-based Rocky Mountain Christian Church and Boulder County.

The county is appealing a 2008 decision by a federal jury that the county commissioners violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying the church’s request to expand.

In 2004, the church asked to add 132,000 square feet to its 106,000-square-foot campus at North 95th Street and Niwot Road. The addition would include a gymnasium, an education building, a multipurpose chapel building and art gallery.

Boulder County turned down the church’s request in 2006, claiming the expansion conflicted with neighboring open space and would overwhelm the area.

The church claims that Boulder County is guilty of discrimination because it did not treat its proposal as it would a secular business or institution. That is a clear violation of RLUIPA, passed in 2000 by Congress to protect churches in land-use issues, said Kevin Baine, who represented the church Monday.

“The county just says you are doubling your square footage and relied on what was a subjective determination,” said Baine. “This property is not in the middle of farmland.”

But David Hughes, who argued for Boulder County, told the justices that Congress did not intend for RLUIPA to supercede local jurisdictions in every land-use case.

“If federal courts and juries are be able to step into local shoes and determine land-use issues,” that would go well beyond the scope of RLUIPA, Hughes said.

The church’s plans have been hotly debated locally.

The case also has drawn numerous organizations into the fracas: the Catholic archdioceses of Denver; Kansas City, Kan.; and Oklahoma City; the Evangelical Christian Credit Union; Regis University; American Jewish Congress; and the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom.

Those and other religious groups have filed amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs supporting the church.

Those backing Rocky Mountain Christian Church “are acutely aware, often by firsthand experience, that zoning laws are commonly applied in a manner that either imposes unnecessary burdens on religious exercise or discriminates based on religion or particular denomination,” wrote attorney Eric Hall in a friend-of-the-court brief.

Meanwhile, the American Planning Association, Colorado Counties Inc., the Colorado Municipal League and the National League of Cities have filed briefs backing the county and asking that the jury’s decision be overturned.

“Not only does the District Court’s decision promote special treatment for religious institutions at the expense of the planning process, it substitutes its own judgment for that of the local government,” wrote Deborah Rosenthal, attorney for the American Planning Association, in her friend-of-the-court brief.

It’s not clear when the appeals court will rule on the case.

Read more:


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: