Unholy Land Grab
For seven years, Reverend Roosevelt Gildon has preached the gospel at the Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. His congregation, around 50 strong, is like a small family. The elderly members, and those without cars, often walk to Sunday services.
â€œRosey,â€ as his friends call him, figured heâ€™d go on preaching in the tidy steel structure for years to come. That was, until the government told him they were taking his church away.
Since the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision last summer, eminent domain has entered a new frontier. Itâ€™s not just grandmaâ€™s house we have to worry about. Now itâ€™s Godâ€™s house, too. â€œI guess saving souls isnâ€™t as important,â€ says Reverend Gildon, his voice wry, â€œas raking in money for politicians to spend.â€ The town of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, has plans to take Centennial Baptist â€” along with two other churches, several businesses, dozens of small homes, and a school â€” and replace them with a new â€œsuper center,â€ rumored to include a Home Depot. Itâ€™s the kind of stuff that makes tax collectors salivate. Itâ€™s also the kind of project that brakes for no one, especially post-Kelo. â€œI had no idea this could happen in America,â€ says Reverend Gildon, after spending Monday morning marching in the Sand Springs Martin Luther King Day parade.
This unholy takeover goes back to Sand Springsâ€™s controversial â€œVision 2025â€ project, which emerged in 2003. The plan includes, according to its website, the â€œlargest set of public redevelopment projects in the history of Tulsa County.â€ The money earmarked for Sand Springs was supposedly meant to focus on redeveloping an abandoned industrial area for big box retailers and other stores. One problem: Centennial Baptist Church isnâ€™t abandoned, and unlike some of the other buildings in its neighborhood, it is in pristine condition. More importantly, the church doesnâ€™t want to sell â€” and they have good reasons. â€œAfter I heard the news, we started looking to see if we could move,â€ Gildon said. â€œI just donâ€™t think we can afford it. Itâ€™s too expensive. And if we canâ€™t move, and they take our building, what happens to the church? If we leave, who is going to minister to the black community in Sand Springs?â€
….. It makes sense on one level. Churches donâ€™t generate any tax revenue for the government to spend. They donâ€™t â€œstimulateâ€ the economy. They often, much to their peril, occupy prime, envied real estate. With the supercharged powers granted by Kelo, be very, very afraid.
Whatâ€™s most egregious about this application of eminent domain is that thereâ€™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 â€” even though two nearby national chains, a taxpaying McDonaldâ€™s and a taxpaying Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s muffler shop, have been left alone.
In December, Reverend Gildon joined up with Americans for Limited Government and our partner group, Oklahomans in Action, to gather signatures for the “Protect Our Homes” initiative, which will go on the ballot in November 2006. Protect our Homes is a measure designed to stop eminent-domain abuse.
….. â€œI hope that my story makes people more aware,â€ said Reverend Gildon, â€œand that maybe it stops other peopleâ€™s homes and churches from being taken against their will.â€ Meanwhile, he awaits his next meeting with the planning board, where they will tell him how much his church is worth. If things donâ€™t change, it promises to be an offer he canâ€™t refuse.
Judge for yourself if the “visionaries” of Vision 2025, which appears to be a countywide initiative of Tulsa County, are being arbitrary with this Vision 2025 project. Although I’m not absolutely positive, here are what I believe are the Google Maps locations of the three places cited in the article (they are all within the “Sand Springs Keystone Corridor Redevelopment” area):
- Centennial Baptist Church — BEING TAKEN
- McDonald’s — BEING LEFT ALONE
- Muffler Shop (could not verify that this is an O’Reilly’s, but the location makes it very likely) — BEING TAKEN (see follow-up post not within NY Times excerpt)
I’m waiting for black civil-rights leaders, many of whom are “Reverends,” to intervene on Reverend Gildon’s behalf. I think I’ll be waiting a while.
In the meantime, if you attend church, ask yourself: Is your church on a busy street, or near a retail center, or simply not liked by your community’s powers that be? Post-Kelo, as predicted by Don Sensing and many others when the decision came down, it looks like your church could be vulnerable to a taking at any time.
UPDATE, Other comments:
- Molten Thought — “Any questions as to why putting reliable conservatives on the Court matters?”
- Larsonian — “When a church isn’t safe in Oklahoma, it isn’t safe anywhere.”
- Anchoress has a truly inspired post on churches, the potential effect their presence can have on the community around them, and what happens when the utilitarian bean-counting thought process trumps all. Made my day.
- Todd Zywicki at Volokh — “Small, minority, poor, and unpopular religions and charities would seem to be especially vulnerable to the wrecking ball.” Bingo. He also has a number of other good links.
- Michael Wiliams at Master of None — “Yet another reason that the power of government should be limited.”
- Christine Hurt at Conglomerate — “What’s Liberal About Eminent Domain?”
- The Electric Commentary — “You better start producing some tax revenue”
- Don Singleton — “Another step toward trying to secularize the United States, like has already been done in Europe.”
- Redneck Peril — “A despicable Supreme Court decision bears predictable fruit”
- Pro Ecclesia (who also called it six months ago) — “Coming soon to a parish near you.”
UPDATE 2: New York Times headline — “Developers Can’t Imagine a World Without Eminent Domain.” Hey, supposedly you all WERE living without it, or should have been until June of last year.
Selected Previous Property Rights Posts:
- Jan. 15–An Outrageous Handoff in LA
- Jan. 5–Maps, New Developer Deal, and Pressuring the Guv
- Dec. 26–OpinionJournal.com Suzette Kelo Interview
- Dec. 15–Kimberley Strassel on Oregonâ€™s M37 and Judicial Tyranny
- Dec. 7–Kelo Update: “the backlash so far has accomplished little“
- Nov. 21–NY Times Notes Financial Viability Problem, Confirms Two Key Points, Omits Others
- Nov. 21–As New London Turns–Institute for Justice Letter Writer Strikes Back
- Nov. 10–As New London Turns: Kelo Update (111005)
- Oct. 20–Kelo Update: As New London Turns (102005)
- Oct. 19–Another Kelo Update: Degenerating into a Soap Opera
- Oct. 19–Kelo-New London Update: City Severs Ties with Development Authority
- Oct. 16–Judicial Tyranny in Oregon (Ballot Measure M37 Struck Down)
- Sept. 22–Kelo Situation Update: A Major Blowback against the Eminent Domain Tyrants?
- Sept. 17–Kelo Residents Update: CT Governor Strikes Back
- Sept. 14–Kelo Eviction Notices Issued in Apparent Defiance of CT Governor
- Aug. 29–More Unhappy Kelo Ruling Supporters
- Aug. 15–Thereâ€™s a Backlash Against the Kelo Backlash
- Aug. 10–Whatâ€™s Happening to the Real People Involved in the Kelo Eminent Domain Case