David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion, The George Washington University Law School
10/23/2008 - On Aug. 7, 2008, the Third Church of Christ, Scientist filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the designation of its church building as a historic landmark. The church is a rare Washington, D.C., example of Brutalism, a modern architectural style popular in the mid-20th century. In December 2007, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board designated the church building a historic landmark, effectively barring the congregation from altering the exterior of the building without the district's permission. Congregants argue that because the concrete building's enormous size and lack of windows detract from worship and make the space expensive to heat and cool, the district should grant the congregation's request to demolish the structure and build a new church in its place.
But the district has denied this request, and the church has sued. The church alleges violations of two federal religious freedom statutes - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) - as well as the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (The Free Exercise Clause generally prohibits the government from discriminating on the basis of religion.) RLUIPA grew out of the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretations of RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause, and is now at the center of many controversies over how the government regulates religious use of land.
To examine how RLUIPA relates to the Christian Science church's lawsuit, the Pew Forum turned to church-state scholar Robert W. Tuttle.
Robert W. Tuttle, David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion, The George Washington University Law School
Jesse Merriam, Research Associate, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Read the complete Q & A Brutalism Is in the Eye of the Beholder: A Congregation Sues D.C. for Making Its Church Building a Historic Landmark on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.