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Designation of a Church as a Historical Landmark

This designation may violate churches' constitutional rights.

Last Reviewed: March 29, 2021

Can a city prevent a church from altering its sanctuary by designating it a "landmark"?

That was the issue before the Washington Supreme Court in an important ruling. The city of Seattle adopted an ordinance giving the city authority to declare any building to be a landmark. The ordinance was designed to preserve and protect those sites reflecting significant elements of the city's cultural or historic heritage. Buildings designated as a landmark by the city could not be structurally altered without city approval.

The city designated a church to be a landmark, and the church sued the city arguing that the landmarks ordinance violated the church's constitutional right to freely exercise its religion.

Specifically, the church claimed that its designation as a landmark impaired its religious freedom in the following ways: (1) city approval and bureaucratic "red tape" ...

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  • January 1, 1991
  • Last Reviewed: March 29, 2021

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