Counts 5, 6, and 7
WHAT THE BISHOP SAID: Count 5-Violation of the United States Constitution. Equal Protection.
"Defendants, acting under color of law, have deprived and continue to deprive the RCB of its right to equal protection of the laws.. ...discriminating against the RCB in the adoption, enforcement and application of its ordinances. Defendants' actions were purposely taken with deliberate indifference to the RCB's constitutional and legal rights."
Count 6-Violation of the Massachusetts Constitution. Equal Protection. [same as above for federal]
Count 7-Violation of the United States Constitution. Due Process.
"Defendants, under color of state law, have deprived and continue to deprive the RCB of due process of law... by denying the RCB use of its property based on an irrational and discriminatory motivation. Defendants' actions were purposely taken with deliberate indifference to the RCB's constitutional and legal rights."
WHAT THE CITY SAID: "…..In 1898, plaintiff transformed itself into a “body politic and corporation sole” and thereby became “subject to all the liabilities and limitations imposed by the Public Statutes.”...Plaintiff does not challenge the OLOH Historic District to use the OLOH site exclusively for religious purposes. Although the plaintiff retains title to the OLOH property, it is no longer used as a place of sacred worship. In fact, plaintiff admits that “the Our Lady of Hope Church was closed”, its assets “were transferred” and “the Church [is] out of service with respect to religious worship.”…..
...the purpose of the Historic District Act and the OLOH Ordinance fit "easily within the established boundaries of 'benevolent neutrality,' in which religious exercise is supported but not promoted" and afford no basis to conclude that the legislative intent was to advance religion...
...the court should look at the specific public interests at stake in creating the OLOH Ordinance. The Historic District Ordinance limits destruction or substantial alteration of the exterior of OLOH property without prior permission of the Springfield Historical Commission. An individual's religious beliefs do not "excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct than the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition."
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID: "The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. Amend. XIV. Because Plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence of unequal treatment, Defendants’ motion will be allowed as to Count Five." (emphasis in original)
"Because Plaintiff has failed to produce evidence of unequal treatment, Defendants’ motion will be allowed as to Count Six."
"Plaintiff has not explained how the Ordinance deprives it of life, liberty, or property. See U.S. Const. Amend. XIV. Thus, Defendants’ motion will be allowed as to Count Seven."
WHAT THE BISHOP SAID: Count 8-Violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act of 2000. Discrimination on the Basis of Religion
"Defendants, under color of law, have deprived and continue to deprive the RCB of its right to be free from religious discrimination - as secured by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act - by treating them on less than equal terms as a nonreligious assembly or institution, by imposing and implementing a land use regulation that discriminates against them on the basis of religion, and by unreasonably limiting RCB's religious assemblies, institutions, and structures. Defendants' actions were purposely taken with deliberate indifference to the RCB's constitutional and legal rights."
WHAT THE CITY SAID: "… nothing in the ... Ordinance’s objectives treats religious assemblies or institutions less well than secular assemblies or institutions that are similarly situated as to the regulatory purpose. Although the Ordinance contains only RCB owned property, that fact alone is not enough to prove a violation of RLUIPA’s Equal Terms provision. ….Plaintiff’s failure to identify any property which is similarly situated to the OLOH site and better-treated, in regard to the objectives of the OLOH Ordinance and the purposes of the Historic Districts Act, is fatal to plaintiff’s RLUIPA claims...
…Plaintiff argues that the OLOH Ordinance violates the RLUIPA because it “targeted the Our Lady of Hope Church”, “is but a single-parcel” and “improperly ‘targets’ only church property owned by the RCB.” As previously discussed plaintiff closed the OLOH church, ceased religious exercises on the OLOH site and relocated the Parish to a different part of Springfield. The creation of the OLOH Historic District followed a statutorily prescribed process aimed at preserving the significant architectural features existing on the OLOH site which seemed to be potentially threatened with destruction by the plaintiff.
“The last church to be closed in Springfield was St. Joseph’s Church located on East Columbus Avenue. Although listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was sold to a developer and demolished for a strip commercial complex. This proposed local historic district is being proposed to avoid the same possible fate for Our Lady of Hope.”...
…The creation of local historic districts is aimed at preserving exterior architectural features of significant historic properties located within the commonwealth. The preservation of such properties does not have any religious motivation whatsoever …..since there is no evidence in the record from which it may be reasonably inferred that Springfield established the OLOH Historic District in order to discriminate against the Catholic religion, plaintiff’s RLUIPA discrimination claims fails as a matter of law."
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID: "Plaintiff also alleges that the Ordinance infringes on its rights by targeting property owned by Plaintiff, a religious institution. Because the Ordinance singles out Plaintiff’s property for disparate treatment, Plaintiff argues that the Ordinance violates subsection (b)(1) of RLUIPA, the Equal Terms provision.
Subsection (b)(1) provides that “[n]o government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(1). The federal courts of appeals agree that a plaintiff need not establish a substantial burden to bring a claim under RLUIPA’s Equal Terms provision.....
The First Circuit has not as yet taken a position on these issues, and the facts of this case require none to be taken here. Plaintiff presents no evidence of unequal treatment as compared to any secular comparator, whether similarly situated or not.....Plaintiff objects to the City’s creation of a single-parcel district that applies only to property owned by a religious institution, referring to it as a form of discriminatory “reverse spot zoning.” At first glance, this argument has some appeal. In this case, however, first impressions are misleading.
Plaintiff’s argument mirrors one that the Supreme Court has flatly rejected, albeit within the context of a Takings claim....there is nothing nefarious about a municipality’s decision to apply the Act to a single parcel of land. In doing so, the City has recognized that Plaintiff’s property contains unique characteristics that hold significant social and historical value.
Plaintiff next argues that the Ordinance violates RLUIPA’s nondiscrimination mandate, which states, “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(2). Plaintiff lumps this violation into the same count (Count Eight) as its Equal Terms argument and makes no attempt to distinguish these provisions. Furthermore, the nondiscrimination provision sets a higher bar for plaintiffs by requiring evidence that the government action was motivated by (“on the basis of”) religion.
Plaintiff does, at one point, suggest that Defendants yielded to the concerns of disgruntled parishioners, who feared the possibility of the church’s demolition, and imposed historic status on the church to appease them. Plaintiff argues “the implications of that conduct . . . may [create] a disputed issue of fact.”
This argument is unavailing. First, it is not clear how such considerations demonstrate discriminatory animus. Second, Plaintiff presents no evidence to substantiate its claim that these considerations played a role in the Commission’s decision to propose this Ordinance to the City Council. Third, the Commission’s report is replete with information justifying its decision based on rational, objective criteria. Consequently, there is no genuine issue as to whether Defendants harbored some form of discriminatory animus in passing the Ordinance. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Without such evidence, Plaintiff’s argument fails, and Defendants’ motion will be allowed as to Count Eight."
(to be continued)