The Rector, Wardens, and Members of the Vestry of St. Bartholomew’s Church v. City of New York and the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of New York
, 914F.2D 348 (2
The Landmarks Commission denied an application for a certificate of appropriateness submitted bySt. Bartholomew’s Church on grounds that the proposed demolition of a supposedly unviable auxiliarystructure and replacement with a revenue-generating 47-story office tower would interfere with thehistoric and aesthetic integrity of the landmark-designated property. Action was brought against theCommission by the plaintiffs alleging that its application of New York City Landmark PreservationLaw had imposed an unconstitutional burden on free exercise of religion, limiting its liturgical practices.
Whether Landmarks Law unconstitutionally denied equal protection, applying different standards of hardship to charitable and commercial organizations, and whether the Commission’s application of said law violated the Church’s First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by entanglinggovernment in religious affairs through limiting the Church’s options to raise revenue for purposes of expanding charitable activities central to its religious mission.
The Court determined Landmarks Law to be neutral and so, constitutional, and found that theCommission’s application of said law did not interfere with the practice of religious beliefs and thusviolate the Church’s First Amendment rights.
The Court grounded its decision on its finding that the Church had failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that the Commission had prevented the Church from carrying out its religious and charitablemission in its existing facilities and that deprivation of commercial value was reasonable as long asthe continued use for present activities remained viable. Landmarks Law was found to be neutralregulation, generally applicable (e.g. zoning ordinances) to sacred and secular establishments alike,and so did not deny the ability to practice religion or constitute coercion in the nature of those