As a resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, ridiculous eminent domain battles are nothing new to me.
For example, according to the Institute for Justice, the city of Arlington took 13 acres of private land for the Texas Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington in 1991. I’m a huge baseball fan, and I’m all for essential public services, but time after time, area municipalities seem to hit nothing but foul balls.
Last year, the city of Duncanville filed a motion to seize the Canaan Baptist Church, according to The Texan. The city wanted the property in order to build a fire station even though Dallas Fire Station 33 was less than five minutes away.
Ignoring the obvious inefficiencies in its proposal, Duncanville proclaimed in the city’s resolution that the matter was one of public welfare.
“The City Council of the City of Duncanville, Texas, hereby finds and determines that a public necessity exists for the welfare of the City and its citizens; and, it is in the public interest for the City of Duncanville Texas, to acquire two parcel of real property in fee simple located at 308 and 232 West Camp Wisdom Road, respectively, Duncanville, Dallas County Texas, for public purpose of constructing and maintaining a fire station and other public appurtenances through the use and right of the City’s power of eminent domain or negotiation in accordance with the Texas Constitution and Texas Property Code,” the city’s resolution reads.
But Canaan Baptist Church wasn’t going to give up without a fight the property it had occupied since 1969. The Texan reported that in a motion, Canaan argued the land was essential to its “religious mission.”
“The Church believes that this Church Property was provided by God for Canaan Baptist to exercise its religious mission,” the motion said.
With the help of First Liberty Institute, an advocacy group for religious freedom, Canaan also offered a viable legal case, postulating that the city of Duncanville’s actions were in violation of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In response, per a May 5 press release by First Liberty, Duncanville “withdrew their condemnation petition to seize Canaan Baptist Church’s property through eminent domain.”
The city now plans to investigate other properties in the area for its new fire station.
This is a big win for Canaan Baptist Church. I’m sure the temptation to gloat and savor the victory is overwhelming, and if I were the victor, I’m not sure I would be able to resist.
However, Canaan and First Liberty have chosen the path of humility, and Canaan will press on with its divine mission as opposed to fighting old battles with the city.
“Canaan Baptist Church believes that God gave the Church this property to fulfill its religious mission,” said Keisha Russell, counsel for First Liberty Institute, reiterating Canaan’s argument in its initial motion. “The church is relieved, and we are grateful that the City made this decision.”
“We praise God that the battle to keep our property is over. We are eager to continue using it to minister to the community,” Dr. Jarvis Baker, pastor of Canaan Baptist, said in the press release. “We want to thank the City for ending this conflict.”
The Establishment clause of the First Amendment was designed to protect religious institutions from the machinations of government, and while this resolution does not directly invoke it, the First Amendment definitely won the day in spirit.
Religious freedom isn’t limited to belief, or the expression of that belief. It also applies to locations, places in which the community can gather to join in prayer.
Canaan Baptist Church understands this, and I’m glad church members won the day. They set an example for all of us.
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