Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Eminent Domain
California

In 1957, a Lutheran church in California purchased a 21-acre parcel of land in a canyon along the Mill Creek. The church constructed several buildings on the property, including a dining hall, two bunkhouses, a lodge, and a chapel, and used the improved property as a campgrounds known a "Lutherglen." In 1977, a fire destroyed the forest upstream of the campgrounds, creating a serious flood hazard. A severe storm in 1978 flooded Lutherglen and destroyed its buildings. In response to the dangerous conditions in the area, the County of Los Angeles adopted a temporary ordinance prohibiting anyone from building any structure within a flood zone that included Lutherglen. The church thereafter sued the state of California, arguing that the state's prohibition of any further use of the campgrounds violated the fifth amendment to the United States Constitution, which specifies that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation." The fifth amendment, argued the church, does not require that the government seize private property by condemnation. It can also be violated by governmental regulations that effectively deny a landowner the use of his land, even on a temporary basis. The California state courts rejected the church's contention, but the United States Supreme Court agreed that the county's ban on further development of the campgrounds amounted to a "regulatory taking" of the church's property without compensation in violation of the Constitution. First English Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Los Angeles County, 107 S. Ct. 2378 (1987).

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Posted: July 1, 1987
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