Wanna Be Mega-Church Hijacks Boulder County
Well, unfortunately for the rest of Boulder County, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, something called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) a few years back. This law, at least in some interpretations, includes a section that pretty much allows any religious institution to bypass any local land use regulation. Since the law went into effect, religious institutions have been suing local governments like crazy, and winning. Boulder County is now on the receiving end of one of those lawsuits.
Here's the problem. If the law says what its supporters claim, it means that the local government is required to change or bypass its own rules to benefit the church, which means additional costs and other negative impacts to the county government, other residents, and local businesses. This means that the county is, in effect, supporting a specific religion. This, in my book, is a classic example of the government establishing a preferred religion, which is explicitly prohibited by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
How about this: Members of the Boulder Church of the Sacred Prairie Dog put an application before the county to create a prairie dog altar and worship site adjacent to the RMCC. If the county approves expansion of the RMCC church, they are interfering with Prairie Doggerals right to worship, and they should be taken to court. Makes just about as much sense to me.
Here's what the RLUIPA says:
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution--Also:
(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that ... unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.Clearly, the government has a compelling interest in denying the application (a large majority of the residents consistently vote to support maintenance of open space) and it's hard to think of a less restrictive way of treating the church (they can expand, but it has to be below ground, so that the prairie dogs can continue to roam.) I guess it's that whole subjective phrase "unreasonably limits".
Well, now that I look at it again, the RLUIPA is clearly constitutional. Why? Because it says so. That's right, it declares,
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address that portion of the first amendment to the Constitution prohibiting laws respecting an establishment of religion.That's right, by enacting, as part of the law, a statement that the law is constitutional, it clearly must be ok. Just as the President does with his notorious and self-serving signing statements, Congress is ignoring the very clear separation of powers delineated in the Constitution.
I'm reminded of the sign I see on the back of the gravel trucks that travel local roads: Not Responsible for Damage to Windshields. By telling us it's not their fault, they absolve themselves of all responsibility. Kind of like me saying that I'm not responsible for the damage to your monitor when you smash it because you are so angry about what I write.
Go ahead. Smash your monitor now. I guarantee you will feel better, and my nasty old opinion will surely disappear.
Anyway, back to my previous rant. The county commissioners have written to the local congressional delegation asking for their support in modifying RLUIPA to allow them to fairly do their job. Seems reasonable to me. The members of RMCC should be free to worship as they please, as long as the rest of us, who may have different religious beliefs, are not forced to pay for them to do so.