Published On: Sun, Feb 24th, 2019

Briefs filed with SCOTUS over Tree of Life Christian school’s battle over zoning discrimination

A broad range of legal experts, education groups, and religious organizations and denominations representing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others have filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of an Ohio Christian school prevented from educating in its own building. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Tree of Life Christian Schools filed a petition with the high court last month asking it to take the case after an eight-year legal battle with the city of Upper Arlington, which allows other nonprofit uses in the zone but singled out the school for exclusion.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

“The government isn’t being neutral when it treats religious organizations worse than everyone else,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “As the briefs filed with the Supreme Court affirm, Upper Arlington’s actions are in defiance of federal law, which prohibits cities from discriminating against religious groups just because they somehow think they can get more tax money through discrimination rather than fairness. Even though Tree of Life shouldn’t have to prove that it will generate tax revenue to occupy its building, the truth is that Tree of Life would generate comparable levels of tax revenue as other secular nonprofit organizations the city allows.”

The city denied zoning approval for the school to relocate its growing, three-campus network to a single location. ADF attorneys then filed Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington in 2011 over the denial after the school purchased a vacant building that would accommodate its need for more space and its desire to serve a greater number of diverse students more effectively.

Citing the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning matters, the lawsuit challenges the city’s exclusion of religious schools from the zone while allowing daycare facilities and other secular nonprofits.

To consolidate its overcrowded campuses and nearly 600 students, Tree of Life Christian Schools purchased the former America Online/Time-Warner building in Upper Arlington. If it eventually obtains zoning approval, the building will allow the school to double in size to 1,200 students, and its relocation will provide more than 150 new jobs to the city.

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