The Supreme Court held that the city’s use of eminent domain power to take private property for the purpose of furthering its economic development plan did not run afoul of the constitutional “public use” requirement. In her dissenting opinion, Justice O’Connor (joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas) cited Becket’s amicus brief to highlight the uniquely burdensome effect an expansive view and overuse of eminent domain poses to houses of worship, church schools, and religious social service organizations like soup kitchens. The Institute for Justice was counsel in this case.
When the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Connecticut bought 10 acres of land to build the state’s first Buddhist Temple, they were unpleasantly surprised.
The Town of Newtown’s Planning & Zoning Commission denied them permission to build their proposed temple, citing the temple’s Asian architecture and the volume of cars and noise the temple could potentially cause. Represented by Murtha Cullina LLP, the Cambodian Buddhist Society sued under RLUIPA and a Connecticut law guaranteeing religious freedom.
The case went all the way to the state supreme court, where Becket filed an amicus brief arguing that the Cambodian Buddhist Society was entitled to build its temple. Sadly, the justices sided with Newtown, saying officials had acted on “neutral concerns” about public safety rather than religious bias. Their decision was out of step with other state and federal courts, which recognize that RLUIPA and state religious freedom laws apply even when bias cannot be definitely proved.
Becket believes that the 500 million Buddhists around the world have a right to build proper facilities in which to practice their faith, whether they are in Cambodia or Connecticut. Apparently, the state of Connecticut disagrees.
Celebrating the Season on the Green
The public green in the town of Trumbull, Connecticut is used year after year to host a wide variety of events, both religious and secular, including an annual art fair, an international food festival, Veteran’s and Memorial Day commemorations involving religious content and the laying of a wreath, and a National Prayer Day. For many years, a Menorah and a Christmas tree have also stood together on the green during the holiday season.
In November 1993, Donald Creatore and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, requested permission from town officials to place a nativity display on the public green next to the town hall of Trumbull, Connecticut. Even though there was already a Christmas tree and a Menorah on display, town officials denied their request, claiming that the application was too late.
Wasting no time, Creatore submitted an application to display the nativity scene for the next holiday season in early 1994. This time, he received a letter from town officials granting permission. Creatore and the Knights submitted plans to the Town Building Official for approval, which was approved in August. Creatore and the Knights made eager plans to place the display.
The city censors a Christmas crèche
Three days before the display was set to be placed—and seven months after permission was granted by the town—officials called Creatore to revoke his permission. Creatore was told that he would no longer allow the display because it communicated a religious message, and that he was concerned that other individuals might oppose it.
All the while, the Christmas tree lit up the green.
Becket defends diversity of displays
Becket stepped in and took their case to court. The district court ruled against Creatore and the Knights, and after their appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled against them. Finally the U.S. Supreme Court protected their right to display a crèche.