|Posted:||February 10, 2017 02:10 PM|
|From:||Senator Guy Reschenthaler|
|To:||All Senate members|
|Subject:||Religious Structures Preservation Act|
|In the near future, I plan on introducing legislation that prevents municipalities from designating churches and other religious structures as historic unless their owners consent to the designation.
Pennsylvania was founded upon certain bedrock principles, including freedom of religious expression. The Pennsylvania Constitution begins by stating the rights of the people of Pennsylvania. This constitutional provision reflects William Penn’s vision of a broader religious freedom than that expressed in the subsequently adopted U.S. Constitution.
It should be the public policy of our Commonwealth to encourage preservation of historically and architecturally significant structures, but we should never permit these designations to be forced on churches. Currently, municipalities are free to designate any structure as historic when they believe it meets their municipal criteria for historic designation.
The designation of a property as historic carries with it significant consequences for its owner. Specifically, it restrains the owner from making any changes to its exterior, as well as demolishing structures that can be unsafe or exorbitantly expensive to maintain and use.
When the designated building no longer suits the owner’s religious mission it can interfere with the sale to a secular buyer.
There have been cases where such designations have caused charitable, religious entities to incur significant legal, engineering, and other expenses while an uninvited nomination takes years to wind its way through municipal processes and the judicial system.
Freedom of Religious Expression includes that a religious entity should not be forced into keeping and maintaining a building which does not advance its religious mission. Churches should be free to devote their assets for a religious use of their own choosing, and they should never be placed in a position where they cannot alter or sell an unneeded building because of a freeze created by a municipal historic nomination or designation. A municipal government forcing a historic designation upon a church or other religious structure when the church’s owner does not want the designation is an improper intrusion of our government into the free exercise of religion.
This legislation will not affect the designating of a church or religious structure as historic when its owner wants it to be designated.
Historic preservation is a laudable goal, and is one that is shared by most religious entities. Most Catholic Dioceses, Presbyteries, Temples, Methodist Conferences, and other religious orders would prefer to accomplish historic preservation through the protection of churches that they select themselves, rather than have the government choose for them.
I hope you will join me in co-sponsoring this legislation. Please contact my office with any questions at 717-787-5839.
Introduced as SB839