Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield v. Springfield (Bishop of Springfield I)

U.S. Dist. Court, D. Massachusetts, 760 F. Supp. 2d 172 (D. Mass. 2011), January 4, 2011: Rejects RLUIPA and constitutional challenges to City Ordinance designating single church parcel as historic district. The Church’s failure to submit any plan for alteration of the building exterior or apply for an exemption from constraints on alteration figured significantly in the decision.  The summary judgment finds issues ripe for adjudication because the Court found deconsecration of the Church building to be a religious exercise and “the requirement to submit to secular authority applies, regardless of whether the City ultimately approves or rejects Plaintiff’s application for an exemption, and since this submission to non-church authority is in itself offensive to Plaintiff”. The Court, reasoning that the Ordinance must be understood as an extension of the Massachusetts historic district enabling act (MGL ch. 9, § 27; the “Act”), then rejects all of the Church’s RLUIPA claims: the burden of the Act is de minimis; the plaintiff presented no evidence of unequal treatment as compared to any secular comparator; there were insufficient facts to create any  genuine issue as to whether the City harbored some form of discriminatory animus in passing the Ordinance; nothing in the Ordinance in any way “limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.” The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s US constitutional Free Exercise claim because “the Ordinance [only] represents a finding that Plaintiff’s property falls under the strictures of the Historic Districts Act” and “because Plaintiff has failed to file even one application for an exemption, this issue [or whether the Historic Districts Act creates a system of individualized governmental assessments] is not ripe for review at this time…”

Decision available at http://pacer.mad.uscourts.gov/dc/opinions/ponsor/pdf/rcb%20mo.pdf.

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