Ohio Town Denies Rights to Christian School

Ohio is listed as one of the most important swing states in this year’s presidential election.  However, if Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus is any indication of the rest of the state, it appears that Ohio will swing towards Obama and the liberal Democrats.

Tree of Life Christian Schools was started in 1978 by a two congregations of the Church of Christ.  Since that time, it has grown to include a number of churches and five campuses.  They offer classes ranging from pre-school to high school and is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International (ASCI).

Several years ago, the Christian school purchased a vacated building that previously housed America Online/Time Warner.  Two years ago, they filed for a zoning clearance to allow them to use the vacant building for educational purposes.  After waiting two years, the city finally ruled and turned down their zoning request.

Having owned the building for over two years and not be allowed to use, the school is filing an appeal.  Alliance Defense Fund took on the case for the school.

In their appeal, it was pointed out that the city had allowed other similar organizations including a daycare facility to operate in the same zone without advance zoning approval.  To deny the Christian school the same rights is a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  They also point out that by allowing the zoning change for the school would create 150 new jobs in the city along with providing additional tax revenue.

Erik Stanley, Senior Legal Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom commented about the case saying:

“Federal law specifically prohibits zoning officials from subjecting religious organizations to this type of unequal treatment.  Upper Arlington will allow other groups to occupy a building in this zone, but it won’t allow this school.

“No city should use its zoning code to discriminate against a Christian school and keep its students in inferior and overcrowded facilities.  A city’s zoning code cannot give preferential treatment to non-religious institutions that function similarly to a Christian school.”

I wonder if Upper Arlington city officials would have denied the zoning change request had it come from a Muslim group that wanted to convert the empty building into an Islamic school?

The ruling in this case could have a huge impact on cities and Christian schools across the nation.  If the courts rule in favor of the city, then any city will be legally allowed to deny zoning requests based upon religious preferences rather than on the zoning laws.  Hopefully the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th District, to whom the appeal will be heard, will rule on law and not religion, but in today’s liberal court system, I wouldn’t hold my breath.