Restricting Certain Activities Near Church Property
Key point 7-07. Many cities have enacted ordinances banning "adult" bookstores and entertainment facilities, and the sale of alcoholic beverages, within a specified distance of a church. These ordinances have been upheld by the courts so long as such businesses are left with a reasonable opportunity to operate in other locations within the city.
Several courts have upheld municipal zoning ordinances prohibiting the location of "adult theaters" within a prescribed distance of a church, despite the claim that such ordinances constitute an impermissible establishment of religion. See, e.g., City of Stanton v. Cox, 255 Cal. Rptr. 682 (4th Dist. 1989); Amico v. New Castle County, 101 F.R.D. 472 (D.C. Del. 1984); City of Whittier v. Walnut Properties, Inc., 197 Cal. Rptr. 127 (1983). To illustrate, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that cities are free to ban adult bookstores or theaters within 1,000 feet of churches, schools, or residences, provided that such restrictions do not deny such businesses "a reasonable opportunity to open and operate an adult theater [or bookstore] within the city." Renton v. Playtime Theaters, Inc., 475 U.S. 41 (1986).
However, the United States Supreme Court struck down an ordinance giving churches the authority to "veto" applications for liquor licenses by facilities located within a 500-foot radius of a church. Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U.S. 116 (1982). The Court concluded that the ordinance substituted the unilateral and absolute power of a church for the decisions of a public legislative body, and thereby "enmeshed" churches in the process of government.