The Supreme Court decided this week not to take up a case involving a claim of discrimination against a Christian school, but an attorney with the firm representing the school says the high court will have to settle this issue someday.
For eight years, Tree of Life Christian School in Ohio has been involved in a 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. Citing the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the school told the Supreme Court that the school was prevented by the government from educating in its own building.
"The city of Upper Arlington, Ohio, is treating Tree of Life Christian Schools differently than other organizations and businesses that it would allow into the zoning district," explains attorney Erik Stanley. "So the idea there is that Tree of Life is denied under the zoning code, but other nonprofit organizations are allowed."
That, says Stanley, is a clear violation of RLUIPA. "The Court's decision not to weigh in does not settle the issue," Stanley continues. "In fact, it leaves the issue very unsettled in the lower courts."
Prior to the case being appealed to the Supreme Court, Tree of Life lost at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes four states: Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Stanley argues that if the school had been located in Florida, it probably would have won the case at the appeals court level.
"That illustrates how divided the district courts and the circuit courts are on this issue," the attorney explains. "So we were hopeful that the Court would take up this issue and resolve this split, but unfortunately this split among the lower courts is going to remain for the foreseeable future."
Tree of Life wasn't alone in its quest for justice. After ADF attorneys asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, a broad range of legal experts, education groups, and religious organizations and denominations filed friend-of-the-court briefs also asking the court to hear the case.
"… One of the nice things about our petition to the Supreme Court," Stanley adds, "is how many other groups, including non-Christian groups such as Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, had come on board and said the principle that religious groups should not be discriminated against in zoning laws is one that applies to all religions."