Using Zoning Laws To Protect Religious Privilege

photo of the inside of a strip club
I’m sure there are plenty of believers in a strip club

One tool local governments use to protect religious privilege are zoning laws. They are regulations that spell out what people can and can’t do with their property. Many zoning regulations specifically spell out protections for religious property like churches while other zoning laws are used more subtly like getting a Zombie Nativity removed.

Large zombie-like figures are used in place of Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the three Wise Men.

Dixon manages the Thirteen Rooms of Doom Haunted House in Rising Sun, Indiana.

He said he and Baker love Halloween and they decided to carry that feeling into December, working with what they had on hand.

“(We had) ugly stuff to work with,” Dixon said.

All of the statuary is handmade, except for the store-bought zombie Joseph and the zombie Baby Jesus.

No one seemed unnerved by the undead figures at first, but then two anonymous complaints were submitted, according to Greg Bickford, of the Sycamore Township Administration Office.

When an inspector came by, he found multiple doors and windows in the driveway, a township violation.

He also found that the accessory structure takes up more than 35 percent of the front yard. That, too, is a violation, according to township documents.

Bickford explained the violations were strictly zoning matters, that the township does not regulate displays for content.

Dixon scoffed at that claim and Baker said the display was not designed to offend anyone’s holiday or religious sensibilities.

Sycamore Township orders ‘Zombie Nativity’ removed from man’s lawn

So some believers got upset that Dixon made a Zombie Nativity and called the authorities. How much you want to bet had it been the standard scene there would be not a peep about it. Now the guy has to remove it or be fined.

Have you also ever wondered why bars and liquor stores are no where near a church? Zoning laws – like in Chicago:

Proximity to Churches, Schools, Homes for the Aged
Licenses for the retail sale of alcoholic liquor will not be issued for establishments within 100 feet of any church (some exceptions to this rule exist pertaining to locations near churches), school (other than an institution of higher learning), hospital, or home for the aged or indigent. Distances are measured in several ways: the distance from a church is measured from the property line of the licensed premises to the nearest part of any building used for worship services or educational programs; the distance from a school is measured from the property line of the school to the property line of the premises to be licensed. Streets, alleys and public ways are included in the measurements mentioned above.

Liquor License Restrictions and Special Regulations

Liquor isn’t the only tempting vice prohibited around a church:

If you are planning to open a sexually oriented business (SOB), such as a strip club or an adult video store, you should be aware of zoning laws, alcohol restrictions, and other regulations unique to SOBs. For instance, local strip club laws typically prohibit such businesses from locating near schools or churches, while some ban complete nudity or the sale of alcohol. Since they vary so much from one city or county to the next, make sure you research local adult entertainment laws before starting that type of business.

Strip Club Laws and the Regulation of Sexually Oriented Business

One trend is to zone strip clubs and adult book stores to remote industrial areas of a city. The intent is to prevent the business from enjoying the “foot traffic” most businesses enjoy when located in high traffic commercial districts. The local governments want to drive these places out of business without “technically” violating their 1st amendment rights.

The claim made for these zoning regulations is to “protect children” and lessen the “negative effects” of these businesses.


I think it’s the same reason we use to have strict blue laws. The church doesn’t want the competition so it used its influence to protect its privilege.

It would be better to drop these restrictive zoning laws and deal with the issues as they come up – if they come up.

If religion is strong enough then it shouldn’t worry about the competition from a liquor store, strip club, or a Zombie Nativity.


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