Recent Developments in Missouri Regarding Schools

A Missouri court ruled that a religious school was not a “church” and accordingly was not exempt from local zoning restrictions.

Church Law and Tax1998-05-01


Key point. Religious schools that are not operated by a church are not necessarily treated as a “church” for purposes of zoning law.

A Missouri court ruled that a religious school was not a “church” and accordingly was not exempt from local zoning restrictions. The school was established to further the educational objectives of the Roman Catholic Church, although it was not operated or controlled by any specific church or congregation. The school wanted to erect lights to illuminate its soccer field so that it could conduct 20 night soccer games each year. A zoning commission denied the school’s request after several neighbors complained about the negative impact on surrounding properties. The school appealed, claiming that it was a “church” and as such was entitled to erect the lights despite the objections of neighbors. A state appeals court disagreed, noting that the school was not a church. The court rejected the school’s argument that it should be treated like a church because of its “religious mission.” Such special treatment, noted the court, would create constitutional problems by favoring religious private schools over secular ones.”

A number of courts have treated church—operated schools as part of the church for purposes of zoning laws. This case demonstrates that this conclusion will not necessarily be applied to private schools with a “religious mission” that are not operated or controlled by a church. Chaminade College v. City of Creve Coeur, 956 S.W.2d 440 (Mo. App. 1997). [Zoning Law for Churches]

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