The Ghost, The Building, The Battle

Jason St. James, Albany Government Law Review Member

On September 11, 2001 the collective consciousness of the United States of America was forever shattered.  Gone was the visage of invincibility, replaced by feelings of disbelief, heartache, shock, and awe, the likes of which had not been felt since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  While almost seven decades separate these catastrophic events, one common thread still exists: the spirit of America was underestimated.  In the wake of the unimaginable, President George W. Bush stated, “[o]ur enemies have made the mistake that America’s enemies always make.  They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness.  And now, they see defeat.”[1] Another conflict now looms on the horizon.  This battle is not being waged by the use of arms, but through a clashing of ideals.  The ambitious Park51 Project acts a lithmus test of U.S. resolve to learn and move past the 9/11 tragedy.

Park51, originally designated as the “Cordoba House,” is a proposed fifteen-story Muslim community center located approximately two city blocks from the World Trade Center site[2] in Lower Manhattan. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Soho Properties Chairman and CEO, Sharif El-Gamal, are heading the project.  The Park51 Project has been controversially referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” because it will contain a Muslim prayer space capable of holding between 1000–2000 people.[3] However, the community center design also includes a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, child care area, library, culinary school, art studio, food court, and a September 11 memorial.[4] The proposed community center will be replacing an 1850’s Italian-style structure that was being used as both a Syms and Burlington Coat Factory, until the building was damaged during the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.[5] One possible obstacle to the construction was the discussed conferment of landmark status upon the current 1850’s building, but on August 3, 2010, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9–0 against granting landmark status and historic protection to the building, thus clearing the way for the building’s demolition.[6]

Continue reading “The Ghost, The Building, The Battle”

Panel 3: Constitutional Theories of RLUIPA

Eric Schillinger, Staff Writer, ESchilling@albanylaw.edu & Daniel Katz, Staff Writer, DKatz@albanylaw.edu    

     We’re back live in the Dean Alexander Moot Court Room for the third panel of the Albany Government Law Review’s Symposium – God and the Land.1  The final panel of the day focused on the constitutional issues surrounding RLUIPA and the interaction of land use and religion.2  Four speakers made up the third panel, land use attorney Wendie L. Kellington,3 the former chief referee of Former Chief Referee for Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals and presently a member of the faculty at Puget Sound Law School.  Elizabeth Reilly,4 dean of the University of Akron School of Law, is our second speaker.  Following Ms. Reilly was Leslie Griffin,5 Larry and Joanne Doherty Chair of Legal Ethics at U of Houston Law Center.  Last to speak was Frederick Gedicks,6 Guy Anderson Chair at the Bingham Young School of Law.

     Wendie Kellington began her discussion with an examination of how discrimination in land use proceedings is rarely overt.  Providing a historical background, Ms. Kellington argued that the revolutionary passions that made up the world of eighteenth century America were key to the development of the free exercise clause.  She argued that during the revolution, American colonists wanted  to overthrow all hereditary forms of government, create a government of laws and not of men, and develop a republican system of government that could protect the governed and grow with time.  She stated that the key to the free exercise clause’s development relied on this revolutionary spirit, and that in today’s society, where the passionate struggle for revolution in government is long over, American society lacks the tenacity it once had in this realm. Continue reading “Panel 3: Constitutional Theories of RLUIPA”

Panel 4: Beginning to Answer RLUIPA’s Unanswered Questions

Sarah Darnell, Staff Writer, SDarnell@albanylaw.edu

     The God and the Land symposium concluded Friday morningwith its fourth and final panel, which gave practitioners an opportunity to discuss questions raised in litigating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLIUPA) and give advice on how to deal with issues as they arise.1 

     Participating panelists were: Dan DaltonDwight H. Merriam, and Julie A. Tappendorf.  Patricia Salkin & Amy Lavine lead the discussion by posing questions to the panelists.   Continue reading “Panel 4: Beginning to Answer RLUIPA’s Unanswered Questions”

Marci A. Hamilton Gives the 13th Annual Edwin L. Crawford Memorial Lecture on Municipal Law: Why RLUIPA is an Unconstitutional Establishment of Religion

Tanya Davis, Staff Writer, TDavis@albanylaw.edu    

     Friday, the third and final day of the God and the Land symposium, began with the Edwin Crawford Memorial Lecture on Municipal Law, delivered by Marci A. Hamilton, the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and author of God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the School of Law.1The subject of her lecture was the unconstitutionality of RLUIPA and the threat it poses to local municipalities in undermining their ability to enforce and draw up zoning laws. Professor Hamilton is one of the leading scholars in the nation in the area of the separation of church and state, and was lead counsel for City of Boerne, Texas in City of Boerne v. Flores2, which held the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA)3unconstitutional. She also clerked for Justice O’Conner when Employment Div. v. Smith4 was decided.   

     Professor Hamilton, who has often been accused of being “too extreme” in her support of the protection of religion, shared that she was “taken aback” when, as soon as she became lead counsel in the City of Boerne case, when she began to get calls from groups that lobby against religious institutions.  These were largely children’s advocacy groups, particularly those acting on behalf of children who die in faith healing homes and communities etc.  Ms. Hamilton soon learned that some religious groups had caused enough harm in our society to mobilize such a massive counter movement.  This was an eye opening experience for her.   Continue reading “Marci A. Hamilton Gives the 13th Annual Edwin L. Crawford Memorial Lecture on Municipal Law: Why RLUIPA is an Unconstitutional Establishment of Religion”