Norwood v. Gamble

Two Ohio residents were being forcibly evicted by Norwood City so that commercial developers could improve the land and generate more tax revenue.

Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief to the Ohio Supreme Court urging that the Court reject the Kelo rule in interpreting the state takings clause. We argued that affirming the lower court’s bad decision would both declare open season on the taking of religious institutions of all faiths and functions (houses of worship, schools, hospitals and soup kitchens, to name just a few). Since religious institutions do not pay taxes, they are especially vulnerable to Kelo-style land grabs.  Allowing this taking to go forward would turn the Ohio Constitution’s prohibition against takings for private use on its head.

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed that economic motives alone cannot justify taking private property from its owners, and that cities must demonstrate they have a genuine public use for the land. This decision protects religious institutions throughout Ohio. Institute for Justice was counsel in this case.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron v. City of Fairlawn

For nearly a year, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron was forced to battle the City of Fairlawn, Ohio in federal court in order to build a fellowship hall on property the church has occupied since 1958.

The church was originally established in nearby Akron in 1839. At the time the church moved to the current site, the Village of Fairlawn had not yet been established. In 1993, Fairlawn adopted a new zoning ordinance, and created three municipal zoning districts, with only one district, M-3, permitting churches. Even there, however, they required special authorization for any construction or modification to existing buildings.

So when the Church asked for authorization to build a new fellowship hall and was denied, it filed a lawsuit arguing that Fairlawn’s implementation of its zoning code amounts to a ban on churches and an unreasonable restriction on the completion, restoration, reconstruction, extension or substitution of preexisting churches. Such burdens, they argued, violate the Constitution and RLUIPA.

The Fairlawn City Council buckled and voted 5-1 to approve a settlement with the Church that gave it everything it had asked for, including legal costs. The constitutional rights of the church, and all the other houses of worship the council had zoned out, was affirmed, and the Church now enjoys a bustling fellowship hall for its activities.

 *Photo Credit: Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

Does Ohio’s school voucher program violate the Establishment Clause?  Becket, and the Supreme Court, said “No.”

The Institute for Justice and Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur were counsel in this case.


Ganulin v. U.S.

The Grinch almost stole Christmas through this lawsuit, but thanks to Becket, this federal holiday eluded an Establishment Clause challenge.

When an anti-Christmas activist in Ohio sued the federal government claiming that the law making Christmas Day a federal holiday violated the Establishment Clause, Becket intervened on behalf of several federal employees to defend Christmas.

In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, Judge Susan Dlott of the federal district court wrote part of the opinion upholding the Christmas holiday in verse.  The decision accords with precedent holding that, as long as the government can articulate a secular purpose for its actions, it may officially recognize a holiday—even one with religious meaning—for all government employees.

Judge Dlott’s Poem

The Court will address plaintiff’s seasonal confusion
erroneously believing Christmas merely a religious intuition.

Whatever the reason constitutional or other,
Christmas is not an act of Big Brother!

Christmas is about joy and giving and sharing,
it is about the child within us, it is most about caring!

One is never jailed for not having a tree,
for not going to church, for not spreading glee!

The Court will uphold seemingly contradictory causes,
*826 decreeing “the establishment” and “Santa” both worthwhile “Claus(es)!

We are all better for Santa, the Easter bunny too,
and maybe the great pumpkin, to name just a few!

An extra day off is hardly high treason.
It may be spent as you wish, regardless of reason.

The Court having read the lessons of “Lynch”
refuses to play the role of the Grinch!

There is room in this country and in all our hearts too,
for different convictions and a day off too!

Cutter v. Wilkinson

Becket’s amicus brief defended the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and its provision protecting prisoners’ religious rights from an Establishment Clause challenge. David Goldberger defended the prisoners. The Supreme Court agreed that RLUIPA provision was constitutional.