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I learned this week that a small Baptist church in Oklahoma is at risk of losing its place of worship because it sits on a site where city leaders want to build a shopping plaza.

This eminent domain business is getting serious.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling last year, we are facing a brand new ballgame in terms of private property and what that term really means.

For the Rev. Roosevelt Gildon, pastor of the Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Okla., eminent domain is threatening to tear his church apart.

I’ve never met Rev. Gildon – or “Rosey,” as his friends call him – but as a pastor of nearly 50 years, I can imagine the feeling of helplessness this man must be experiencing. He’s been leading the flock for seven years at the church. And now the congregation is looking to their shepherd for answers, with government officials threatening to take the church property.

Government officials in Sand Springs have told Rev. Gildon they will be seizing the church property to build a “super center.”

This is an alarming development, one that should send shivers down the spine of any pastor reading this column.

In the Kelo case, a group of Connecticut homeowners chose not to accept a corporation’s offers so that a business area could be developed. So the city council authorized the corporation to acquire properties within the designated area. When homeowners refused the offers, the development corporation voted to use eminent domain to acquire the properties, even though the owners were averse to selling.

Following a trial, the case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which determined that the use of eminent domain for economic development doesn’t violate public use clauses of the state and federal constitutions. Appeals failed to protect the rights of the property owners.

We are now seeing that “economic development” is more powerful than personal property rights – or church rights, in the case of Centennial Baptist Church.

In a National Review Online article titled “Unholy Land Grab,” Heather Wilhelm reported that this church property takeover is unnecessary.

“The way things are now, Centennial Baptist Church could easily live side-by-side with new stores, houses or businesses,” Ms. Wilhelm wrote. “Yet Centennial remains in the crosshairs – even though two nearby national chains, a taxpaying McDonald’s and a taxpaying O’Reilly’s muffler shop, have been left alone.”

She also reported that Centennial is not run down; in fact, she reports that the building is like new and fully functional. So this isn’t a case of city officials getting rid of a dilapidated old church.

Rev. Gildon has now coalesced with Americans for Limited Government and Oklahomans in Action to fight the takeover of his church.

I’m no lawyer, but maybe the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, or RLUIPA, can provide protections for Rev. Gildon’s church. RLUIPA is a federal statute that provides stronger protection for religious freedom in terms of land use. The statute has been beneficial in halting discriminatory zoning laws that target churches across the nation.

In the meantime, my prayers are with Rev. Gildon and his congregation. They should be afforded the right to remain at their present location so that they can serve God and fully minister to their community. Let the money-hungry corporate big boys either build around the church or move on to another locale.



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