January 17, 2006

Kelo Update: Now It’s Churches, Too

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:30 pm

Jan. 23 – Kelo Sands Springs Update: Double-Speak Obscures the Ugly Truth
Jan. 25 – Kelo Sand Springs Church-Taking Update

Heather Wilhelm, a Phillips Foundation fellow and serves as the director of communications for Americans for Limited Government, lays it out at National Review:

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.

“Rosey,” as his friends call him, figured he’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. It’s not just grandma’s house we have to worry about. Now it’s God’s house, too. “I guess saving souls isn’t as important,” says Reverend Gildon, his voice wry, “as raking in money for politicians to spend.” The town of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, has plans to take Centennial Baptist — along with two other churches, several businesses, dozens of small homes, and a school — and replace them with a new “super center,” rumored to include a Home Depot. It’s the kind of stuff that makes tax collectors salivate. It’s also the kind of project that brakes for no one, especially post-Kelo. “I had no idea this could happen in America,” says Reverend Gildon, after spending Monday morning marching in the Sand Springs Martin Luther King Day parade.

This unholy takeover goes back to Sand Springs’s controversial “Vision 2025” project, which emerged in 2003. The plan includes, according to its website, the “largest set of public redevelopment projects in the history of Tulsa County.” 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 isn’t abandoned, and unlike some of the other buildings in its neighborhood, it is in pristine condition. More importantly, the church doesn’t want to sell — and they have good reasons. “After I heard the news, we started looking to see if we could move,” Gildon said. “I just don’t think we can afford it. It’s too expensive. And if we can’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?”

….. It makes sense on one level. Churches don’t generate any tax revenue for the government to spend. They don’t “stimulate” the economy. They often, much to their peril, occupy prime, envied real estate. With the supercharged powers granted by Kelo, be very, very afraid.

What’s most egregious about this application of eminent domain is that there’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 — even though two nearby national chains, a taxpaying McDonald’s and a taxpaying O’Reilly’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.

….. “I hope that my story makes people more aware,” said Reverend Gildon, “and that maybe it stops other people’s homes and churches from being taken against their will.” Meanwhile, he awaits his next meeting with the planning board, where they will tell him how much his church is worth. If things don’t change, it promises to be an offer he can’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):

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:



  1. [...] me Court have opened the door for your house to be taken from you by the likes of Pfizer. Now they are coming after your church. Filed in: Politics | No Comments » No comments ye [...]

    Pingback by Pundit Review » Blog Archive » The Kelo Decision Gets Worse — January 17, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

  2. Kelo: If You Had Any Doubt…

    If I take money from you, that’s theft.
    If the government takes money from you, then gives it to me, that’s considered “general welfare”.

    If I take a hammer from Home Depot without paying them for it, that’s shoplifting.
    If Home Depot comes t…

    Trackback by The Larsonian — January 18, 2006 @ 9:10 am

  3. The Church of Tax Revenues:

    As I observed a few months ago, one predictable loser in the post-Kelo aftermath would be tax-exempt organizations such as churches. Tom Blu…

    Trackback by The Volokh Conspiracy — January 18, 2006 @ 10:00 am

  4. [...] ry) enslaved to their upkeep dies a dreary death – alone, unmourned and unsung. Bizzyblog has more thoughts on the story,and writes: “…if you attend church, ask yourself: Is your church on a bu [...]

    Pingback by The Anchoress » KELO takes a church; utilitarianism on the march — January 18, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

  5. [...] ime that the decision especially endangered houses of worship. Seems I was right, sadly. BizzyBlog has a report on the aftermath of Kelo, with links to relevant postings. The Anchoress has more.

    Pingback by One Hand Clapping » Blog Archive » Kelo is coming for you — January 18, 2006 @ 2:35 pm

  6. American Communism 3, Church vs. Home Depot

    I’m a fan of Home Depot, but it pisses me off to see municipal governments tearing down churches to build “super centers”. In our post-Kelo world — in which the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s ok for governments to use their eminent domain power…

    Trackback by Michael Williams -- Master of None — January 18, 2006 @ 6:13 pm

  7. I’d rather go to Lowes anyhow. If everyone was so upset about this, they’d write Home Depot and tell them that either they pull out of the deal, or we’re taking our home improvement business elsewhere.

    Comment by Texican — January 19, 2006 @ 12:18 pm

  8. #7, Great point, but it wouldn’t have to come to that, except for The misguided Supremes.

    Comment by mmatters — January 19, 2006 @ 12:21 pm

  9. I am a resident of Sand Springs. I grew up in Sand Springs and recently moved back because it is and will always be my home. I have sympathy for Rev. Gildon’s case, but I also want to see my city improved. It was made very clear what is envisioned for the area in question and that the use of eminent domain is not desired and would only be only be used if all other options were exhausted and there was no other choice.

    There is no mention that the neighborhood in question was home to several known drug houses and that a majority of the properties were in disrepair or abandoned and falling down. Nor was any mention made that the McDonald’s and O’Reilly Auto Parts were constructed with redevelopment in mind. The school that was mentioned as being “taken” is a Kindergarten in much need of repairs and renovations. the school district sold the property in order to help finance the construction of a new Early Childhood Center that will help students receive the best education possible. The muffler shop (and its location)that is described has been vacant for years. The church erected a new metal building for their facility several years ago, however they are missing a very important component. They have no parking lot. The members of the congregation park wherever and however they can. To my knowledge they do not own any additional land and have nowhere to construct a parking lot. This is an eyesore and does not comply with the City’s bulding codes or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    Sand Springs has been long overlooked when it comes to economic development and many businesses have closed because they could not attract consumers willing to make a 10 minute drive to Tulsa. There are no quality restaurants only fast food and if you want to do any shopping you are pretty much left with only Wal-Mart. Change is needed and is necessary. I would hope that Rev. Gildon could explore the idea that no one is out to get him or his church and that what the city is doing is what is not only right for the city, but for the community as well. My church has reached out to all the churches in the area to welcome their congregations to worship with us. There are many churches in Sand Springs that are doing the same. This is a very giving community.

    The information in your story is very one sided and not well researched and I hope that others see this and can use it to form a better opinion.

    Comment by JHenderson — November 29, 2006 @ 1:19 am

  10. #8, nothing you say changes the fact that he owns the property and should not be forced to sell it if he doesn’t want to. If you think he is acting immorally or selfishly, then your only avenue of redress is moral suasion.

    If he is truly in violation of building codes, that’s a separate matter and a potentially valid reason for sanctioning him, but NOT for taking his property without his consent. I am told OK law is on his side.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 29, 2006 @ 8:26 am

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