The congregation of Faith Deliverance Temple has just scored a property rights win that gives opponents of eminent domain abuse reason to sound a victory chorus.
The group stood to be unceremoniously ejected from the Orlando church where faithful have worshiped for more than 30 years. City officials demanded that the church hand over its property for a stadium to accommodate a new Major League Soccer team, ignoring church members’ pleas to be allowed to stay in the beautiful building.
The Temple consistently declined to sell. According to Jonathan Williams, the son of the church’s founders, “[i]t’s not about the money . . . [but] about being here and being able to worship God freely.” On the other hand, the officials masterminding the land grab made very clear that they consider razing a church to replace it with a sports megaplex at a cost to taxpayers of $110 million to be no more than business as usual. Indeed, the city refused to take “no” for an answer and went to court to force through its bid for the property.
Fortunately, in the face of an outpouring of public support for the Temple’s struggle, city officials backed down, withdrawing the eminent domain lawsuit against the church on Monday. The soccer stadium will instead be located one block to the west. “[W]e got exactly what we were asking for,” said Williams. “All we wanted to do is stay.”
However, other property owners confronted by developers intent on building flashy sports complexes have not been so fortunate. In 2009, New York City took Brooklyn residents’ property so that private developer Bruce Ratner could build a new professional basketball arena that will cost the city tens of millions more than it raises in tax revenue, but line Ratner’s pockets to the tune of $726 million.
The Institute for Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case urging New York’s highest court to find the taking unconstitutional, but the court accepted at face value the government’s assertion that the construction was for public use.
The judges told displaced property owners that they should complain to the legislature instead of petitioning the courts (a judicial euphemism meaning, “Go fly a kite”). That same year, a Texas court permitted Arlington to take land from 17 property owners to construct the Dallas Cowboys’ $1 billion stadium.
In view of these courts’ reluctance to shield against such flagrant property rights violations, in many regions it is up to citizens to follow Orlando’s example by telling government officials that they cannot confiscate property for the advantage of professional sports franchises.
— Chelsea Pizzola
Chelsea Pizzola is a student at The George Washington University Law School and a clerk at the Institute for Justice