I'm a fan of Home Depot, but it pisses me off to see municipal governments tearing down churches to build "super centers". In our post-Kelo world -- in which the Supreme Court has ruled that it's ok for governments to use their eminent domain powers to take private property from one party and give it to another in order to increase tax revenue -- I expect that tax-exempt groups like churches will get the worst end of the stick every time.
Since the Supreme Court's controversial Kelo decision last summer, eminent domain has entered a new frontier. It’s not just grandma’s house we have to worry about. Now it’s God’s house, too. “I guess saving souls isn’t as important,” says Reverend Gildon, his voice wry, “as raking in money for politicians to spend.” The town of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, has plans to take Centennial Baptist — along with two other churches, several businesses, dozens of small homes, and a school — and replace them with a new “super center,” rumored to include a Home Depot. It’s the kind of stuff that makes tax collectors salivate. It’s also the kind of project that brakes for no one, especially post-Kelo. “I had no idea this could happen in America,” says Reverend Gildon, after spending Monday morning marching in the Sand Springs Martin Luther King Day parade. ...
What’s most egregious about this application of eminent domain is that there’s already plenty of room for development, even if the pesky church sticks around. Many community residents were happy to sell their property. Two other churches in the area decided to move to Tulsa. Other structures in the area were dilapidated and ready for the deal. The way things are now, Centennial Baptist Church could easily live side-by-side with new stores, houses, or businesses. Yet Centennial remains in the crosshairs — even though two nearby national chains, a taxpaying McDonald’s and a taxpaying O’Reilly’s muffler shop, have been left alone.
Yet another reason that the power of government should be limited. Perhaps the Supreme Court will feel a little differently if Justice Souter's house gets demolished to build a museum to lost liberty.
Fortunately my church is in a residential district, so it's less likely to be stolen by the city for commercial development.