According to a federal law passed in 2000, the answer is basically yes. To wit, a Unitarian Universalist church in Wayzata, Minnesota has won an out-of-court settlement to build a new church in the middle of a residential neighborhood, against the objections of the City of Wayzata:
In a church-state dispute with echoes across the country, a Wayzata congregation has won its battle to build a new church in a residential neighborhood.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka will be allowed to tear down a house and build a church and parking lot in its place, according to a federal court-mediated settlement reached last week between the church and the city of Wayzata.
To underscore the church’s victory, the settlement also requires the city and its insurer to pay the church $500,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
The 2000 federal law under which the church sued Wayzata, which effectively allows religious projects to trump local zoning restrictions, is being tested in a growing number of communities around the country. Cases resulting in victories for congregations have cropped up in California, Maryland, Colorado and elsewhere.
In its 2010 federal suit, the Unitarian church also charged Wayzata with violating its First Amendment rights to free speech and religious worship.
My question is this: In this day and age, is it appropriate for churches to be built in residential neighborhoods? There is so much commercially-zoned property these days, it seems to me that churches should be built in those areas.
In other words, isn’t it more neighborly for a church to build in a commercial zone than in the middle of a residential neighborhood?