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Court backs city’s creation of historic district to prevent parish demolition

Catholic World News - July 24, 2013

Upholding a lower federal court decision, the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Massachusetts city’s creation of a historic district to prevent a closed parish’s demolition does not violate the First Amendment.

The Springfield, Massachusetts, city council created Our Lady of Hope Historic District in 2010 to prevent the demolition or exterior alteration of a 1925 Italian Renaissance-style church with 65 stained glass windows. The Diocese of Springfield, citing religious-liberty rights, challenged the decision in court.

“It’s definitely good news,” the chairman of the Springfield Historical Commission told the Springfield Republican following the ruling. “I am happy the court affirmed the right of the city to include religious properties in historic districts.”

The appellate court ruled that “there is no evidence that suppression of Catholic religious practices was the object of the Ordinance” and that “the existence of the Ordinance itself is not an unconstitutional burden on [Bishop Timothy McDonnell’s] free exercise of religion.”

The ruling stated that Springfield’s bishop was welcome to propose alterations to the church to the historical commission.

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