This house is crumbling / who’ll say the last amen?

The New York Times‘ conservative primatologist David Kirkpatrick makes two questionable assertions in the first paragraph of his report on religious conservatives’ reaction to that abomination known as the Kelo decision. See if you can spot them:

Conservative Christian groups seeking to galvanize support for a battle over a Supreme Court nomination are rallying around the unlikely symbol of a mega-church in Los Alamitos, Calif., one of a handful of houses of worship that have tangled with towns over the use of eminent domain to take their properties.

Give up? Here’s the graph again, with added emphases:

Conservative Christian groups seeking to galvanize support for a battle over a Supreme Court nomination are rallying around the unlikely symbol of a mega-church in Los Alamitos, Calif., one of a handful of houses of worship that have tangled with towns over the use of eminent domain to take their properties.

Kirkpatrick grants that Cottonwood Christian Center has tangled with Los Alamitos pols over eminent domain issues in the past, but he plays up the fact that the church managed to beat back the taking. He refers to the ubiquitous “many legal experts” saying that people shouldn’t have a cow.

After all, Kirkpatrick writes, “a federal appeals court ultimately blocked the condemnation of Cottonwood’s property.” Further, he refers again to “experts” who “note that a federal law, many state laws and the First Amendment make it virtually impossible to focus on religious institutions for condemnation, to say nothing of political resistance to tearing down church buildings.”

So there. The fears are unfounded and the symbol is really an empty, “unlikely” one.

Hey, The New York Times says it. It must be true.

[Cue rim shot -- ed.]

For the real scoop on what happened to Cottonwood, we turn not to the paper of record but to the website of the Beckett Fund, a group that litigates on behalf of religious liberties. The story goes:

Several years ago, [the overcrowded members of Cottonwood] raised funds to purchase property to build a much larger facility. They spent more than a year buying up parcels from multiple landowners, finally sewing up a 17.9 acre property in a redevelopment area near the Los Alamitos Race Course at a cost of $13 million. The property purchased by the church had been largely vacant for decades.

They drew up plans for a 300,000 square foot worship center with seating for more than 4,700, a youth center, daycare center, gymnasium, and other facilities to serve the congregation.

In October 2000, Cottonwood filed an extensive application for a Conditional Use Permit (“CUP”), that went well beyond the city’s requirements. But a few weeks later, the city rejected it, citing omission of a Preliminary Design Review, despite the fact that the application itself states that such a review is optional. The following day (a Friday), the city sent the church a letter — by ordinary mail — informing them of a City Council meeting on Monday, at which it would adopt a moratorium on any new permit applications in the redevelopment area.

The moratorium lasted more than a year, during which the city sought interest from potential commercial developers. Finally, having secured interest from Costco Corporation, the big warehouse retail store chain, in February 2002 the City Council conceded that it had improperly rejected Cottonwood’s CUP application. But at the very same time, the Council approved an “Exclusive Negotiation Agreement” with Costco, and in April, the Redevelopment Agency selected a development proposal from Costco despite the fact that it doesn’t own the land, and that a retail outlet is not a permitted use under current zoning for the property.

To shorten a much longer story, Cottonwood filed suit and the city retaliated by starting eminent domain proceedings. A federal court ultimately forced a settlement in which the city had to buy land near the area of the planned church and swap it out for the land that Cottonwood had purchased.

But all of this occurred under a much different legal regime than the one that exists after Kelo. Now, it is very likely that Cottonwood would be forced to give up the land and be lucky to get its money back in the deal.

Kirkpatrick accidentally gives away the game when he admits that the justice who warned that, under Kelo, churches are likely to be bulldozed to make way for retail outlets, was not rightwing firebrands Scalia or Thomas, or even that old horse Rehnquist, but Sandra Day O’Connor.

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  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com/ Peter T Chattaway

    Chagall Guevara fan, I see. :)

  • Pingback: tjic.com » Blog Archive » religion and Kelo

  • http://clayanderson.com Clay Anderson

    Shoot, Mr. Chattaway beat me to it. Clever Chagall reference…kudos.

  • http://akapastorguy.blogspot.com Mark Jackson

    Man, I miss Chagall… sigh. Thanks for the all too hip reference to make my day.


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