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Churches as Historical Landmarks

Ordinances barring church modifications may be unconstitutional.

Key point. City ordinances that allow church buildings to be designated as historical "landmarks," thereby preventing any structural modifications without city approval, may violate the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom.

A Washington court ruled that a city could designate historic churches as "landmarks," but could not restrict the use of such properties until they ceased to be used for church purposes. A church was nominated for protection as a "landmark" by a city commission pursuant to a local ordinance. This meant that the church was prevented from making any changes to its facility without the prior approval of a city "landmarks board." The church sued the city, claiming that the landmarks ordinance violated the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. Specifically, the church argued that the city had no authority to designate or nominate a church as a landmark, ...

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Posted:
  • March 1, 1996

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