Thursday, January 3, 2008

Oops! Eminent Domain...

Pa. Supreme Court allows property seizure for private school

By The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A city agency acted legally when it seized a woman's home to help a religious group build a private school in a blighted Philadelphia neighborhood, the state Supreme Court ruled last week.

In a case pitting eminent domain against the separation of church and state, the state high court's ruling reversed a ruling by the lower Commonwealth Court, which had sided with homeowner Mary Smith.

"The principal or primary effect of the redevelopment plan ... is to eliminate blight in this particular neighborhood," Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Baldwin wrote for the majority.

A secondary effect could be the advancement of religion, but there is no evidence that is the primary goal, she wrote.

The city Redevelopment Authority condemned Smith's property in North Philadelphia in 2003 and transferred it to the Hope Partnership for Education, a Catholic organization that proposed a nondenominational middle school for the site, among other projects.

Smith appealed the condemnation, arguing that it benefited a private religious entity and was not for a public purpose as the law requires.

Common Pleas Court found the condemnation lawful, Commonwealth Court ruled that it wasn't, and now the Supreme Court has ruled that it is — provided the primary purpose is to remove blight.

Supreme Court Justice Max Baer disagreed, calling the majority decision unfortunate.

"I believe this is a case of direct government aid, in the form of a land transfer below market value, to a religious organization for the development of a religious school," Baer wrote in his dissent.

The result, he wrote, is the "direct financing of religious education with the primary effect of advancing religion."

The city, the Hope Partnership and Smith's representatives could not be reached for comment.

On The WitchVox comments page, Gypsy made a damned good point.

Since when does the Catholic Church support the building of non-denominational schools? While they may call it non-denominational, the key factor here is the hands of the Catholic Church in the mix. I would have no issue had the houses that were to be torn down were non-livable and included a housing complex someplace in the mix. But even imminent domain does not give the right of any agency to randomly tear down just any house with no set plan.

There are options to help restore homes that need some work but are basically livable...there is a section of my very own street which is nothing but HUD homes rented out under section 8 HUD...based on income and they are nice new houses. Plans such as that one, done with thought and yes checking legal references can help to revitalize a less than desirable community. But taking that womans house for less than the value of her property is stealing in any form of mumbo jumbo that the courts decide to rule against her under.

But done in the manner this apparently was wreaks of a violation of the first amendment right. That woman under the right of religious freedoms has the right to say she doesn't want a Christian school built where her house used to be. Sadly however I have little faith the our government will do the right thing. Non-denominational does not mean public and it does not mean non-religious...Besides that even if they made it a private school owned by the Catholic church but not a Catholic school, who is to say that after a year they could not close down for the summer, change the signs and bring in Catholic religious curricula. Complete with nuns and paid teachers...

Aside from that note, a private school is going to do what for a blighted neighborhood except to provide an education for those who can afford it, which most people in a blighted neighborhood cannot do. Those who can afford it will most likely be from a non-blighted neighborhood without the need that is prevalent in this one. Take care of the needs rather than create new ones.

I'm still not quite sure how pissed to be about this. I definitely agree with Gypsy here, but at the same time... if something like eminent domain can be legally justified at all, isn't objecting to this a little like shutting the door when the wolf is already in the house?

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