Noise and traffic will keep houses of worship out of the suburbs, according to a recent court decision banning churches and temples in residential areas.
The Oct. 16 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posed a setback to a Jewish congregation trying to open a synagogue in a Philadelphia suburb.
“The court overturned a judge’s ruling that had struck down a local zoning law in Abington Township that allowed golf courses, kennels and riding clubs —but not churches—in residential areas,” according to the Washington Post.
The three-judge panel wrote in its opinion that churches and temples create traffic and parking problems. The panel also wrote that although houses of worship were once seen as an integral part of neighborhoods, “we do not believe land use planners can assume anymore that religious uses are inherently compatible with family and residential uses.”
The court added, “The facts of this case illustrate why religious uses may be, in some cases, incompatible with a place of ‘quiet seclusion.'”
Kol Ami congregation boasts about 210 families, according to the Post, and it had hoped to open a religious school for 120 students on the site.
“Neighbors opposed the move, saying an active synagogue would bring noise and traffic to what is now a residential cul-de-sac shared with million-dollar homes,” the Post reported.
Under Abington’s 1992 zoning plan, churches, hospitals and schools are restricted to nonresidential areas.
This case “is one of a handful of cases across the country that could test the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” according to the First Amendment Center.
Signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, the act exempts religious groups from most local zoning rules unless a community can show that the restrictions are necessary to protect public safety.
“Despite the act,” the First Amendment Center reported, “religious-rights groups say suburbs have continued to apply zoning regulations that make it tough for new churches to set up in neighborhoods where they were once welcomed.”
Kol Ami’s dispute is almost three years old. It began when the congregation tried to buy the property from the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.