Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Zoning Law and the Civil Rights Act
Church sues for damages due to a city's unconstitutional actions.

New Jersey state appeals court confirmed that a church is entitled to monetary damages resulting from a city's denial of its constitutional right to religious freedom, but it refused to award any damages to a church whose rights were violated by a city's actions. A city arbitrarily denied a church's request for permission to construct a radio tower on its property, and the church sued the city for monetary damages under the federal Civil Rights Act which authorizes persons to collect money damages from those who violate their constitutional rights. The court concluded that the church was entitled "to recover such damages as it may prove." The church produced evidence of damages amounting to nearly $800,000, comprised mostly of the projected revenues it lost by not being able to broadcast programs for some four years during the lawsuit. The state appeals court concluded that the proper measure of damages was the lost property value resulting from the city's denial of the church's constitutional rights. Since the value of the church's property was in no way diminished by the city's denial of the tower permit, the court refused to award the church any monetary damages. In summary, the court acknowledged that churches can sue for monetary damages resulting from a city's denial of their constitutional rights. However, in the context of zoning law, the proper measure of a church's damages for a city's unconstitutional actions is loss in property value. Burlington Assembly of God Church v. Zoning Board, 588 A.2d 1297 (N.J. Super. 1990).

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Posted: March 2, 1992
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