The Atlantic Cities blog asks some interesting questions about the efforts of community groups to label church buildings as landmarks, making efforts to sell and raze the structures impossible for struggling congregations. From the post:
In cities nationwide, churches are struggling to maintain the physical plant. Congregations are dwindling, budgets are tight and buildings are becoming aging white elephants. Many denominations, perhaps most notably the Catholic Church, are closing and selling off their buildings to stay afloat.
But these old churches are beloved landmarks, whether people worship there or not. Churches are key to a city’s architectural character and its social and religious history, preservationists say. Often, these advocates will stamp a capital L on these landmarks through official historic designation. At the state or local level, such designations can limit what happens to church buildings by preventing significant alterations or demolition.
Such limitations, church leaders say, can pose economic hardships that interfere with their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, for example, recently characterized the city’s effort to landmark six churches as "extremely offensive." Federal and state laws, particularly the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act, protect religious groups from some property use restrictions.
The writer highlights a pending case in Norwalk, Conn., where "the Romanesque-style church features a stained-glass rose window designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself. The founders of American Methodism preached there. Given its prominence and pedigree, should the church’s governing body be allowed to sell the building for development, as it is currently trying to do? The U.S. Constitution, according to many observers, says yes, but historic preservationists beg to differ. Who decides?"
Read some more background on the case in the full post here. Has your diocese been involved in a similar situation? Should church buildings be exempt from landmark status? Would preserving the edifice while replacing the "church" with business or residences be satisfactory?