The Our Lady of Hope Lawsuit, introduction

OK, off to the races.

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The Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield sued the City of Springfield in January over  the designation of Our Lady of Hope church as a  historic district. This was moved to federal court in February. Then in mid-Sept. a short article appeared in the Springfield Republican stating that the entire matter had been taken "under advisement" by Judge Michael Ponsor.  Prior to this, the lawsuit sat pretty much dormant all summer. At least, I thought it was dormant.

When I looked into the case via PACER (the way that the general public finds out about public documents in federal court cases)  I was surprised to see how much activity had taken place since February. No less than 32 court papers have been filed, many of them multi-part briefs arguing some very fine points of law. Apparently, both sides really want to win this one.

It's clear that the city wants to win because they submitted a total of 82 substantive pages of arguments. Not to be outdone, "Smilin' Jack" Egan, Esq. submitted 162!

Way to go, Jack! Talk about "making a Federal case out of it"!

I, for one, go to the oratory for an hour of adoration secure in the knowledge that Jack is leading the charge against these vile violators of our freedom of religion, speech, assembly and expression! Or, I suppose it could be, as the city attorney says, that

"Plaintiff presents a grab bag full of allegations designed to have the Court, for federal constitutional purposes, review the OLOH Ordinance under strict scrutiny".

We shall see.

At any rate, the 162 pages of arguments did give me pause.  I don't remember any special collection for Mr. Egan's law firm. Maybe a bill is on the way?

I suppose the first thing to do is outline the case.

Although the Bishop submitted 12 allegations, many of the State charges mirror the Federal ones. Plus, the last count is for declaratory judgment, which is not a count but a request for relief.

In a previous post, I have listed all 12 charges.

In the coming weeks and months I will fill out this picture by presenting the city's answers to the charges. These responses are woven into a very large paper called "City Opposition" (Document 25.1, 25.2, and 25.3).  The charges are given below in my own number format.

I'm trying to present this as cleanly as possible, but the job is difficult. Mr. Egan's charges are densely written and while the City response is much clearer, it, too, backtracks and loops upon itself in unpredictable ways. What I have tried to do is separate the main allegations of the Bishop into smaller sections; and then answer each section with the City's responses as concisely as possible.

I have used the City's own words without any paraphrasing, although I have made abundant use of ellipses to indicate editing. My edited responses from the City papers are not necessarily chronological, i.e, some of the responses to the earlier charges may be taken from later pages in the City's brief, if the quotes are apt.  The object is to show the most germane points of the City's responses  to the charges of the Bishop.

Full text of footnotes are not included, but they are indicated in this text, so that a given footnote can easily be found in the actual court documents, which are being posted on the WMC main web site. These footnotes are interesting.  Everything from the venerable "wall of separation" Danbury reference to frequently cited Supreme Court decisions (Smith, many NYC church decisions, Yoder).

Of special interest are decisions in the historic preservation area; this is not the first time that the Bishop and City's historic commission have tangled.

The RLIUPA issues can be achingly complex.  For those with a lively interest I recommend Marci Hamilton's "God vs. The Gavel" which gives a good overview of the federal law which is a large part of this case. Without question, if the Bishop can convince the judge to apply strict scrutiny and RLIUPA claims, his case is greatly enhanced.

The City argues that strict scrutiny should not apply and says that their historic preservation ordinance should stand on its own merit. They claim that the Bishop has "a heavy burden" to show that the historic preservation law is invalid.  Indeed, they claim that he brings a "facial challenge" that, if successful, would have the effect of invalidating the law across the commonwealth.

It will be noted that the last charge, "Violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act" (# 11), is answered first, during the City's recitation of background facts.  The City, citing procedural issues, points out that it is not a person, and that only persons can be sued under the Act.  For this reason it asks for summary judgment on the claim.

Other than that claim, the other 10 are accounted for in my outline.

I divide the 10 charges into non-RLUIPA claims (7), and the RLUIPA claims (3). I include the Violation of Due Process charge together with the Violation of the Equal Protection of the Law charges because they are so close in meaning.

non-RLUIPA claims

Section 1 - Violation Of Free Exercise Of Religion And Establishment Clause, counts 1 (federal) and 2 (state)

Section 2 - Violation Of Freedom Of Speech, Expression And Assembly 

counts 3 (federal) and 4 (state)

Section 3 - Violation Of Equal Protection Of The Laws By Discrimination, counts 5 (federal) and 6 (state) plus
count 7, Violation Of Due Process 

RLUIPA claims

Section 4
a- Discrimination on the Basis of Religion under RLUIPA, count 8
b- Substantial Burden on Religious Exercise under RLUIPA, count 9
c- Unreasonably Limitation Of Religious Expression Under RLUIPA, count 10

* - Violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, count 11

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