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ARDA Guiding Papers Series

Septics, Sewers and Secularization: How Government Regulation Flushes Religiosity Down the Drain

by Anthony Gill


In recent decades, religious organizations have seen an increasing assault on their property rights. Various regulations have been imposed by local governments that restrict the ability of churches to build and/or expanding meeting facilities, and have increased the general cost of “doing religious business.” Such burdens represent a significant assault on religious liberty as enumerated by the free exercise clause in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. While the U.S. Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 to deal with this issue, many local governments continue aggressively to limit the property rights of churches. This paper presents a number of causal factors explaining this trend, highlighting the important role that tax revenue and public school enrollment plays in determining the nature and extent of property regulations. I also highlight how asymmetries in power and resources favoring local governments over independent congregations enable violations of religious property rights to persist despite federal regulations guaranteeing churches from such abuses.

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Please use the following when citing this paper:

Gill, Anthony. 2010. Septics, Sewers and Secularization: How Government Regulation Flushes Religiosity Down the Drain (ARDA Guiding Paper Series). State College, PA: The Association of Religion Data Archives at The Pennsylvania State University, from http://www.thearda.com/rrh/papers/guidingpapers.asp.

Anthony Gill (Ph.D. UCLA; B.A. Marquette) is Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and a non-resident scholar at Baylor University's Institute for the Study of Religion. He is the author of Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin American (Chicago) and The Political Origins of Religious Liberty (Cambridge). The latter book won the American Sociological Association's Section on Religion's Distinguished Book Award. Prof. Gill's current research agenda examines how local governments regulate church growth via property rights regulations. He teaches courses in political economy, comparative politics, research methodology and religion & politics and earned the UW's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999. Prof. Gill has also been an occasional guest host on Christian talk radio -- the Georgene Rice Show -- airing in Seattle and Portland, and is a monthly guest on an Ellensburg, WA radio talk show. Tony attends the Duvall Church (Evangelical Methodist) in the small town of Duvall, WA. His favorite color is blue and really likes pizza and dutch-oven cooking.