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Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Inc. v. City of New Berlin

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
396 F.3d 895 (2005)


Facts

A Greek Orthodox church (plaintiff) purchased 40 acres of land in the City of New Berlin (city) (defendant), for the purpose of building a church. The land was zoned for residential use. The church applied to the city to rezone a portion of the land for institutional use. The city was concerned that a nonreligious facility might be built on the land if the church was unable to raise the funds required for construction. The church proposed that the city issue an ordinance limiting the land to church-related uses. The city voted against the proposal due to the inaccurate belief that an entity that purchased land from the church would not be bound by the ordinance. The city supported two alternative options. The first was a conditional-use permit, which did not require a zoning change but lapsed within a year. The second was an ordinance that would overlie residential zoning, so that the property would revert to residential use if sold by the church. The first option was undesirable to the church due to the time limit. The church also declined to resume the application process under the second option, because the option had the same effect as the church’s proposal. The church concluded that its options were to either sell the land or face an unreasonable delay by restarting the application process to satisfy a concern that the church had already addressed. The church sued the city, claiming that denial of the rezoning application violated subsection (a)(1) of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The RLUIPA prevented a government agency from imposing or implementing a land-use regulation in a manner that imposed a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. The city claimed that it had treated the church equally to other zoning-variance applicants. The district court granted summary judgment for the city.

Rule of Law

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Holding and Reasoning (Posner, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
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