Ohio Christian school continues fight to educate in building after more than six-year legal battle
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A Columbus-area Christian school is appealing a federal district court’s second decision to block the school from serving students in a building that it has owned since 2010. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Tree of Life Christian Schools filed the notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which last year ruled in favor of the school and sent the case back to the district court.
Last month, though, the district court again ruled in favor of the city of Upper Arlington, which more than six years ago denied zoning approval for the school to relocate its growing four-campus network to a single location.
ADF attorneys filed Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington in January 2011 over the denial after the school purchased a vacant building that would accommodate its need for more space and its growth plans. Citing the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning matters, the lawsuit challenges the city’s regulation that prohibits schools within the zone but permits daycare facilities and other similar uses.
“No city should use its zoning laws to engage in religious discrimination under the guise of maximizing tax revenue,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “The city’s zoning law allows daycare facilities and other similar uses of equal size that provide less tax revenue than even Tree of Life’s school. Federal law prohibits zoning discrimination against religious land use; therefore, Tree of Life should be allowed to use its building for the schooling purposes it has long intended.”
In May 2016, the 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling that found in favor of the city. The 6th Circuit said the case should proceed to trial, noting that “[b]y enacting RLUIPA, Congress directed federal courts to scrutinize municipal land-use regulations that function to exclude disfavored religious groups like TOL Christian Schools.”
In order to consolidate its four overcrowded campuses and 660 students, Tree of Life Christian Schools purchased the former America Online/Time-Warner building in Upper Arlington. If it eventually obtains zoning approval, the building will allow the school to grow to 1,300 students, and its relocation will provide more than 150 new jobs to the city as well as tax revenue greater than what has been realized from the vacant site in many years.
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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