Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington
Description: Upper Arlington, Ohio, officials refused to allow Tree of Life Christian Schools to apply for zoning approval after it purchased the former America Online/Time-Warner building. A zoning regulation prohibits schools within the zone but permits daycare facilities and other similar uses.
US Supreme Court won't weigh in on city's discrimination against Christian school
“The government isn’t being neutral toward religion when it chooses to treat religious organizations worse than other entities,” said ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy and Senior Counsel John Bursch. “Upper Arlington’s actions are in defiance of federal law, which prohibits cities from discriminating against religious groups in zoning matters. The government can’t say ‘yes’ to daycare centers and other nonprofit uses of property but say ‘no’ to a Christian school that wants to educate children. For that reason, this issue will come back to the court someday in a different case.”
The city denied zoning approval for the school to relocate its growing, three-campus network to a single location. ADF attorneys then filed Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington in 2011 over the denial after the school purchased a vacant facility, the former America Online/Time-Warner building, that would accommodate the school’s need for more space and its desire to serve a greater number of diverse students more effectively.
Citing the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning matters, the lawsuit challenged the city’s exclusion of religious schools from the zone while allowing daycare facilities and other secular nonprofits.
If Tree of Life Christian Schools had obtained zoning approval, the building would have allowed the school to double in size to 1,200 students, and its relocation would have provided more than 150 new jobs to the city.
After ADF attorneys asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, a broad range of legal experts, education groups, and religious organizations and denominations representing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others supporting the school’s position filed friend-of-the-court briefs also asking the court to hear the case.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom. Bursch has argued 12 U.S. Supreme Court cases and more than 30 state supreme court cases since 2011, and a recent study concluded that among all frequent Supreme Court advocates who did not work for the federal government, he had the 3rd highest success rate for persuading justices to adopt his legal position. Bursch served as solicitor general for the state of Michigan from 2011-2013. He has argued multiple Michigan Supreme Court cases in eight of the last ten terms and has successfully litigated hundreds of matters nationwide, including six with at least $1 billion at stake. As part of his private firm, Bursch Law PLLC, he has represented Fortune 500 companies, foreign and domestic governments, top public officials, and industry associations in high-profile cases, primarily on appeal. He received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1997 from the University of Minnesota Law School and is admitted to practice in numerous federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.