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The city of Long Beach, Calif., is using the power of eminent domain bolstered by last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling to condemn a Baptist congregation’s church building.
The city will hold a hearing March 13 and vote on a resolution authorizing the city attorney to begin condemnation proceedings.
Last June, the a high court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London the municipal government could seize the homes and businesses of residents to facilitate the building of an office complex that would provide economic benefits to the area and more tax revenue to the city. Though the practice of eminent domain is provided for in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, the case was significant because the seizure was for private development and not for “public use,” such as a highway or bridge.
The Long Beach church’s pastor, Roem Agustine, said in a segment on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” March 3 none of the alternative sites proposed by the city are acceptable. One of the proposed relocation sites was a bar.
Pastor Roem Agustine
“Either they are small in area or they are in the redevelopment area of the city, and we don’t want to move to a place where later on we’ll be told to move out again,” the pastor said.
Attorney John Eastman, who is defending the church, told Fox News the area is not blighted.
We’re not talking about a rundown slum that’s boarded up with bars on the windows,” said Eastman, director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. “The church is a vibrant church. So we’ll challenge whether they’re allowed to take it at all.”
Eastman told Baptist Press the case could play a key role in reversing the high court’s eminent domain decision.
“In my view, the Supreme Court made a terrible mistake in Kelo, and I think they know that and they’re going to be looking for a way to extricate [themselves] from that case,” he said.
A church case, he continued, is the best challenge to the principle of that case, “where there is no economic output, so any economic development could then be utilized to take out the church under the Kelo theory.”
Baptist Press noted there are eight other active cases of eminent domain abuse against churches across the country, according to the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm in Arlington, Va.
The Long Beach church’s pastor, meanwhile, said the issue has helped unite the church.
“We’re just resting on the promise of the Lord that He will not leave us nor forsake us,” Agustine said.