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something else to worry about

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Jul 01, 2005

Among the many frightening rulings issued by the US Supreme Court recently, last week's stunner expanding the power of local officials to take property through eminent doman was one of the more remarkable ones.

Justice Stevens said that the courts in general should give local officials "broad latitude in determining what public needs justify the use of the takings power." In practice, this means that if the local government decides it could generate more revenue by selling your property to a commercial enterprise, you could be forced to sell your home.

OK, that probably won't happen. After all you pay real-estate taxes, don't you?

Ah, but what if you don't pay taxes? What if you're a non-profit institution-- like, say, a church? You can be sure that folks on the planning boards are taking a slant-eyed look at properties owned by churches-- especially if they happen to be hostile to religion anyway-- and thinking about how much more tax income they could gain if the land were owned by video-rental shops.

This isn't an original idea on my part. The Becket Fund filed on amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to consider how this case could imperil religious institutions. The Becket Fund warned that the wrong sort of decision would "declare open season on the taking of religious institutions of all faiths and functions (houses of worship, schools, hospitals, and soup kitchens, to name just a few)..." And that's exactly the sort of decision the Supreme Court gave us.

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