Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Description:  Upper Arlington, Ohio, officials refused to allow Tree of Life Christian Schools to apply for zoning approval after it purchased the former America Online/Time-Warner building. A zoning regulation prohibits schools within the zone but permits daycare facilities and other similar uses.

US Supreme Court won’t weigh in on city’s discrimination against Christian school

High court declines to take up case of Ohio Christian school prevented by govt from educating in its own building
Monday, May 13, 2019

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to take up the case of an Ohio Christian school prevented from educating students in its own building. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Tree of Life Christian Schools in its eight-year legal battle with the city of Upper Arlington, which allows other nonprofit uses in the zone where the school purchased its building but singled out Tree of Life for exclusion.

“The government isn’t being neutral toward religion when it chooses to treat religious organizations worse than other entities,” said ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy and Senior Counsel John Bursch. “Upper Arlington’s actions are in defiance of federal law, which prohibits cities from discriminating against religious groups in zoning matters. The government can’t say ‘yes’ to daycare centers and other nonprofit uses of property but say ‘no’ to a Christian school that wants to educate children. For that reason, this issue will come back to the court someday in a different case.”

The city denied zoning approval for the school to relocate its growing, three-campus network to a single location. ADF attorneys then filed Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington in 2011 over the denial after the school purchased a vacant facility, the former America Online/Time-Warner building, that would accommodate the school’s need for more space and its desire to serve a greater number of diverse students more effectively.

Citing the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning matters, the lawsuit challenged the city’s exclusion of religious schools from the zone while allowing daycare facilities and other secular nonprofits.

If Tree of Life Christian Schools had obtained zoning approval, the building would have allowed the school to double in size to 1,200 students, and its relocation would have provided more than 150 new jobs to the city.

After ADF attorneys asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, a broad range of legal experts, education groups, and religious organizations and denominations representing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others supporting the school’s position filed friend-of-the-court briefs also asking the court to hear the case.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Additional resources: Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Previous news releases:

  • 2019-02-20: US Supreme Court won’t weigh in on city’s discrimination against Christian school
  • 2019-01-16: Ohio Christian school takes its zoning discrimination case to US Supreme Court
  • 2017-11-14: Ohio Christian school continues fight to educate in building after more than six-year legal battle
  • 2016-05-19: 6th Circuit rules in favor of Christian school zoned out by Ohio city
  • 2015-04-28: ADF to 6th Circuit: Ohio city’s zoning code should not punish Christian school
  • 2012-09-11: Christian school zoned out by Ohio city
  • 2011-01-05: ADF files federal suit against Ohio city for blocking Christian school from using its own building

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