DC church claims that a proposed bike lane violates their religious freedom

A proposed protected bike lane in northwest Washington, DC has the United House of Prayer feeling some kind of way. The lane, which would go down their street, would make it harder for their congregants to park, which they contend is a violation of their “rights to religious freedom.”

really don’t think that term means what they think it means.

Here’s their argument, from the Washington Post:

The church, which says it has more than 800 congregants, notes that the Convention Center is in the area, which already exacerbates traffic and parking issues. Consequently, as many car lanes and parking space as possible are needed on the street.

The parking loss would place an unconstitutionally undue burden on people who want to pray, the church argues, noting that other churches already have had to flee to the suburbs because of similarly onerous parking restrictions. The church says that DDOT lets cars park diagonally on the street during busy times, which would be seemingly impossible if a protected bike lane were on the street.

Bike lane, via Wikimedia Commons

Bike lane, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a very thick line between a bike lane being inconvenient and a bike lane being unconstitutional, and that line has not been crossed here in the slightest. Nothing about this bike lane prevents the United House of Prayer from holding services, and nothing about this bike lane targets the United House of Prayer specifically. If the city wanted to get rid of parking spaces in front of the church for the express purpose of cutting into its attendance, or if they passed a citywide ordinance restricting traffic on Sunday mornings in order to discourage religious observance, then we could talk about a violation of religious freedom. But this isn’t that; not by a long shot.

In this case, the United House of Prayer is arguing that municipal governments should be crafting public policy with religious institutions in mind, but should be doing so in order to preference them, not inconvenience them. This is literally the opposite of what our constitutional rights to religious freedom were designed to prevent.

Municipal governments should, and usually do, operate without religious institutions in mind. Sometimes the decisions they make are an inconvenience to some people. That is both inevitable and entirely constitutional. Someone needs to pull these church officials aside and explain that this really isn’t about them.

As the Post notes, this isn’t the first time a church has opposed a bike lane in Washington DC over parking concerns. But when the Metropolitan AME Church complained about a planned protected bike lane, they did so without invoking the Constitution; they just said it was an inconvenience and proposed an alternative. The city agreed to make the bike lane unprotected in front of the church, a compromise that bicycling advocates in the city said set a problematic precedent.

There may be good, secular reasons to keep parking in front of the United House of Prayer, but their argument that this bike lane is an unconstitutional violation of their rights is so ridiculous that I’m inclined to say they should lose their parking spaces on general principle.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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44 Responses to “DC church claims that a proposed bike lane violates their religious freedom”

  1. ComradeRutherford says:

    Well, duh! Jesus never mentioned bicycles, so clearly the Constitution can’t protect bike riders.

  2. Silver_Witch says:

    Okay you are off track on this one Bill. This is a CHURCH – they pay NO tax and they are not being persecuted or prosecuted.

  3. Silver_Witch says:

    DC and Churches and parking spaces have had a long and odd relationship in DC. I think it started with Marion Barry and his odd “gifts” to constituents to have more rights or something. They have some streets where special parking rules exist on Sundays – like diagonal parking where normally there is none or double parking. Of course I have been gone 4 years..so maybe DC is not making Special Concessions to Churches anymore…but for decades there has been special treatment of church parking.

  4. Daniel Sackinger says:

    Who are you quoting? I don’t see that statement in the post of the person you replied to.

  5. mf_roe says:

    “Churches get a poor return for their tax dollars” like that?

  6. mf_roe says:

    Parasitic exploitation of superstition has always been the business model of Religion.

  7. Daniel Sackinger says:

    Please don’t contribute to the death of sarcasm.

  8. mf_roe says:

    tax revenue? are you an idiot?

  9. rodnchance says:

    First thing is that since this ‘Church’ pays zero in taxes for any publicly financed necessity IE sewers, streets, night lighting, and etc.
    Second thing is that the congregation can and should start riding bicycles. That would give them a better opportunity to appreciate being alive and a great way to have a family outing, heck take a picnic along in a bike basket and take time to enjoy life and love in an out door setting after the sermon. In winter bring along pot luck foods for all to enjoy indoors. Dress for the weather year round.

  10. willardcottrell says:

    Typical christian ignorance. Lately it is being presented on a 24/7 time schedule. From the huckster to Joel Osteen to minister’s claiming to know when the earth’s days will end. When will people realize this mythology is there just to take their hard earned money?

  11. Nancy Green says:

    A street in Pawtuxet, RI is one-way on Sunday mornings. that’s reasonable accomodation, the church should look at that while looking at public transit as a moral issue.

  12. nicho says:

    Jesus walked everywhere.

  13. 2karmanot says:

    I think I’ll sit by you!

  14. gratuitous says:

    This is an “undue burden”? I think not. Take a bus.

  15. mf_roe says:

    Cheers! Love your graphic, passionately agree with the statement.

  16. John Masters says:

    I agree there might be reasonable arguments to be made to keep the parking spaces as opposed to the bike lane, but that’s a public policy issue…not a Constitutional one. Boy, some people. Of course, they are opposed to those parts of the Constitution that give the rest of us equal rights.

  17. olandp says:

    They have 800 congregants, how many parking spaces could possibly be lost?

  18. Duke Woolworth says:

    Ablutions 5:32. Wash thy hands of pharisees.

  19. Bill_Perdue says:

    Tax. Tax. Tax.

    Prosecute.

    Persecute.

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  21. The_Fixer says:

    I clearly remember Jesus saying “Park ye your Acuras, Mercedes’ and thine Porsches close to thine house of worship, so that ye may have a short journey for which to haul your offerings for the Lord. Let no special passage be provided for conveyances of the unfaithful; for they are heathens and are an abomination unto God.”

    I think it’s close to the verse “Woe be to he who keyeth the cars of the scribes and pharisees; for he shall be smited.”

    I’m sure it’s in the Bible somewhere.

  22. Akbar O'Flaherty says:

    I think that the city government should really give this church’s concerns the proper amount of consideration, taking into account the amount of tax revenue generated by the church.

  23. Doug105 says:

    ,.

  24. BeccaM says:

    I wasn’t aware there was a constitutional right to have taxpayer-funded, convenient — and technically traffic-law violating — parking spaces…

    Wouldn’t Yahweh be more impressed if people actually had to walk a ways to church?

  25. 2karmanot says:

    Tax their asses!

  26. nicho says:

    These are people who get on airplanes and demand that other people change their seats so the Hasidic men won’t have to sit next to a woman. It never occurred to them to buy two goddam seats, and they wouldn’t have the problem. Everyone else has to be inconvenienced.

  27. CPT_Doom says:

    There are only three Metro stops and three bus lines close to the Church.

  28. goulo says:

    Heaven forbid they might even have to use public transportation, riding with the heathens!

  29. mf_roe says:

    In many cases it isn’t so much willful ignorance, as it is willful deceit. They know full well that they are gaming the system, in bible speak they are hypocrites.

  30. MoonDragon says:

    Sometimes it’s cookies.

  31. goulo says:

    Now that’s chutzpah indeed. The Hasidic argument is that if they stare at someone else, it’s that other person’s fault? Sheesh. They need to accept a little personal responsibility for obeying their own extreme religious laws.

  32. mf_roe says:

    Tax the frauds that use churches as a source of tax free income. Mega church hucksters make dug dealers look poor.

  33. mf_roe says:

    Glazed orifices seem a little suggestive for a church.

  34. mf_roe says:

    This same group of god’s chosen are quite happy to let the taxpayers of the city and county SUBSIDIZE the government services consumed by their castle of delusion. Does the PD provide traffic control for their ritual gatherings. Does the house of god get free fire protection, does it pay for street maintenance. Does it request special zoning variances besides this “WE ARE SPECIAL” demand?

  35. Quilla says:

    I was told there’d be cake.

  36. Quilla says:

    It’s way past time to tax churches.

  37. Baal says:

    In the religion of Revived Ba’al worship (United Church of Ba’al 2015, Houston, Texas Synod), fat slobs like Rush Limbaugh are an abomination in the eyes of Ba’al. Laws that prevent the followers of that church from incinerating him on a pyre really get in the way of freedom of religion. It is a direct affront to religious sensibilities. Human sacrifice is an ancient time-honored ritual (Abraham was quite willing to do it to his own son). God’s law (in this case Ba’al’s law) should supersede any prohibition on making a human sacrifice out of Rush Limbaugh.

    I have spoken.

  38. Indigo says:

    There are doughnuts after service?

  39. Indigo says:

    That speaks of impressive clout on the part of the church with the city council. Especially in a reputedly gay town like Palm Springs.

  40. Indigo says:

    Freedom of religion is too easily taken by practitioners to mean freedom of religion to inconvenience others. That interpretation arises from willful ignorance. The solution is not to be found in the courts, it is to be founded in education. Maybe the churchians would like a public official to come in and explain how law works to them.

  41. nicho says:

    The issue also has shades of the dispute in Brooklyn a few years back, when the city removed bike lanes because Hasidic men complained that the bike lanes forced them to look at scantily clad women, which was a violation of their religious freedom.

    http://nypost.com/2009/12/08/hipsters-repaint-bike-lanes-in-brush-off-to-hasids/

    Groups of bicycle-riding vigilantes have been repainting 14 blocks of Williamsburg roadways ever since the city sandblasted their bike lanes away last week at the request of the Hasidic community.

    The Hasids, who have long had a huge enclave in the now-artist-haven neighborhood, had complained that the Bedford Avenue bike paths posed both a safety and religious hazard.

    Scantily clad hipster cyclists attracted to the Brooklyn neighborhood made it difficult, the Hasids said, to obey religious laws forbidding them from staring at members of the opposite sex in various states of undress.

  42. nicho says:

    We had a similar situation here in Palm Springs. There is an LGBT walking/running group that meets every day. The walkers took a route that brought them on a path around a public golf course and back onto the main street along a one-block public street that ran between a big anti-gay church and it’s anti-gay school. The bigots at the church tried to shoo us away, telling us they didn’t want us near their church. However, it was a public street. So, the church went to the city council and got them to give the street to the church on some phony pretext, so they could keep “the gays” away from their precious building.

  43. woodroad34 says:

    It’s called the Public Right of Way (PROW), not the Christian Right of Way (CROW). I suggest they eat crow.

  44. MoonDragon says:

    If lack of a place to park within 25 feet of the church door is enough to keep you from attending services, my guess is you’re only attending for the post service doughnut social.

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