Parking Outside Churches?
Question Corner: June 2017
by Tim Athan
From the June, 2017 issue
Q. I see cars parked outside churches on Sundays in areas that are normally no-parking zones. Do churches get special parking exemptions? If so, doesn't giving them special privileges violate the Constitution's Separation Clause?
A. On-street parking is a public asset that city governments can try to use in any way that serves the broader public interest. Churches located in a downtown area often find parking for worshipers a challenge. In the twentieth century, many Ann Arbor churches relocated from downtown to the more open spaces of suburbia.
"Basically the city recognized a need for additional parking and came up with a solution," says AAPD Sgt. Tom Hickey, noting that streets are often quieter on Sundays, making it easier to waive normal restrictions. Though used mainly by church members, the extra parking is open to anyone.
City council adopted the exceptions and could end them if it chose but might need to be wary of possible litigation: a 2000 federal law prohibits governments from putting a "substantial burden" on a person's right to worship. In 2005, the Lighthouse Community Church of God successfully sued the City of Southfield under the law after it was refused a certificate of occupancy because its building had too few parking spaces. In 2012, the Michigan Islamic Academy sued Pittsfield Township over its rejection of a planned school on Ellsworth Rd. Last year, a settlement granted MIA permission to build--and $1.7 million (Inside Ann Arbor, September 2016).
[Originally published in June, 2017.]
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