November 14, 2017

Christian School to Court: Let Us Use the Building We Purchased

Sarah Kramer

Six years ago, Tree of Life Christian School purchased a vacant building to consolidate its four campuses.

Fast forward to today, and the school is still waiting to move into its new building fully. Why? City zoning regulations stand in its way.

The school, dedicated to educational excellence and nurturing young lives in Christ, had been growing and was pushing the limits of its four campuses with 660 students. Naturally, the school went looking for a bigger facility.

When Tree of Life applied for a zoning permit for a new building it had found, however, the city of Upper Arlington, Ohio turned it down. This despite the fact that the city zoning code allows daycares and other similar uses in the same zoning district without a permit. But because Tree of Life is a Christian school, it was denied. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has been representing Tree of Life in a lawsuit against the city.

A district court in Ohio recently ruled against the school, allowing the city’s zoning rules to stand that treat religious organizations on unequal terms. On Monday, ADF attorneys appealed that ruling.

It’s not only the school that loses when the city blocks it from being able to use its own property for religious purposes. The community – the city itself – suffers as well.

If Tree of Life is permitted to open its school at its new location, it could double in size, providing quality education for those attending, as well as up to 150 additional jobs. Plus, the city would benefit from the tax revenue being brought into a location that was previously vacant.

Instead, the city chose to deny Tree of Life the use of its property for religious purposes. Not only is the city hurting itself, but those actions are also unlawful. And ADF will continue to defend Tree of Life’s rights.

Government Should Not Be Permitted to Treat Religious Organizations Unequally

That’s a principle that ADF is dedicated to defending. In fact, we recently defended this principle at the U.S. Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. Trinity Lutheran had been denied a state grant that was open to all non-profits in Missouri simply because it is religious. The Court ruled 7-2 in Trinity Lutheran’s favor, making it clear that the government cannot treat religious organizations and individuals worse than everyone else.

Unfortunately, the court neglected to recognize this in its ruling against Tree of Life Christian School. But ADF is dedicated to continuing to defend Tree of Life’s right not to be treated as second-class citizens simply because of its faith.


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