DC Church Claims Proposed Bike Lane Goes Against "Constitutionally Protected Rights Of Religious Freedom"

This is a bit of a departure from our normal blog posts, but this story of one church and a proposed bike lane is an example of an institution using a religious freedom argument inappropriately.

From Washington Post:

The District government is going through the rather municipally boring process of determining where to build a bike lane on the east side of downtown.

And one church has given a charged response to some proposals, saying that a bike lane near its property would infringe upon “its constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom and equal protection of the laws.”...

The church, represented by a lawyer, wrote in a letter to DDOT, which WashCycle blog obtained and reported on, that the proposals along Sixth Street are “unsupportable, unrealistic and particularly problematic for traffic and parking.” 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.

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No, this is not as earth-shattering as a same-sex couples being denied marriage licenses because of another's religion, but a church using a religious freedom argument against a bike lane is certainly worrisome and could set a precedent of religious institutions using the First Amendment and other religious freedom laws to affect unrelated municipal business. Moreover, it's a wrongheaded and petty use of the religious freedom argument. The United House of Prayer may have had a valid logistical complaint about the parking issue, but losing parking spaces would not have burdened the church's ability to actually hold its services. It would just mean that congregants would have had to walk a bit further. Nobody's constitutional rights would have been trod upon.

In this case, utilizing a religious freedom complaint is like using a gold-plated wrench to hammer in a nail. It's an inappropriate tool for the job.