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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Property Rights, Secular Interests and Religious Freedom

Lost in the debate concerning the building of the mosque/community center near Ground Zero in New York is the fact that other religious groups often face near insurmountable hurdles when it comes to building or expanding their facilities. University of Washington Political Scientist Anthony Gill has written a paper (Septics, Sewers and Secularization: How Government Regulation Flushes Religiosity Down the Drain) long before the controversy concerning the mosque arose on this issue that may be of interest to some of you. Here's the paper's abstract:
In recent decades, religious organizations have seen an increasing assault on their property rights. Various regulations have been imposed by local governments that restrict the ability of churches to build and/or expanding meeting facilities, and have increased the general cost of “doing religious business.” Such burdens represent a significant assault on religious liberty as enumerated by the free exercise clause in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. While the U.S. Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 to deal with this issue, many local governments continue aggressively to limit the property rights of churches. This paper presents a number of causal factors explaining this trend, highlighting the important role that tax revenue and public school enrollment plays in determining the nature and extent of property regulations. I also highlight how asymmetries in power and resources favoring local governments over independent congregations enable violations of religious property rights to persist despite federal regulations guaranteeing churches from such abuses.
Gill has also written an excellent book on religious liberty for those of you who may be interested in exploring the issue in more depth.  Gill has also written a great book on the rise of liberation theology (Rendering Unto Caesar). Unfortunately, the latter is only available from Amazon as a hardback. There are paperback copies out there, however.

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