January/February 2023 Issue
Also in this issue: Seventh Circuit Dismisses Challenge to Madison's Digital Sign Ordinance | Wisconsin Appellate Court Rules City of Milwaukee Violated Family Dollar’s Due Process Rights When it Denied the Renewal of Food Dealer and Weights & Measures Licenses | Welcome Joesph Hasler and Maximillian Buckner | Wisconsin Supreme Court Clarifies How Tax Assessment Claims Must Proceed
Court Dismisses RLUIPA Challenge to City’s Stadium Lighting Decision
Tanner G. Jean-Louis | 02.02.23
Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic high school based in Madison, Wisconsin, sought to renovate its athletic field to add stadium lighting and eventually amplified sound. Edgewood was bordered on three sides by two residential neighborhoods, members of whom vocally opposed the plans for stadium lighting. Edgewood sued the City of Madison in federal court after City officials denied Edgewood’s permit applications to install the lights. The City was represented by a team of Boardman Clark attorneys.
Edgewood’s primary argument was that the City violated RLUIPA – the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Among the goals of RLUIPA are to ensure that municipalities do not unduly restrict religious land uses, and to prevent municipalities from treating religious land users worse than other land users. Edgewood argued that preventing the school from obtaining stadium lights would burden its religious exercise because it would hamper the school’s religious mission to educate the ‘whole student.’ Edgewood also argued that it was being treated less favorably than other institutions because Memorial High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison both had athletic fields with outdoor lighting.
The district court in Edgewood High Sch. of the Sacred Heart, Inc. v. City of Madison, No. 21-CV-118-WMC, 2022 WL 18024626 (W.D. Wis. Dec. 30, 2022) granted the City’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Edgewood’s lawsuit. The court found that Edgewood was unable to support its argument that its religious mission required that its students be able to play athletic games on their home field at night, as opposed to using another stadium for night games as Edgewood had done in the past.
The court also found that Edgewood was not treated less favorably than Memorial High School or UW-Madison because Edgewood’s permit applications were filed at different times than the other institutions and were therefore subject to different rules. Additionally, at the time of its first application, Edgewood had entered into a binding master plan with the City and that master plan made no mention of stadium lights but instead contained language limiting the allowed uses of the field. Memorial High School did not enter into a master plan, and UW-Madison’s lighting applications were approved before its own, substantially different master plan went into effect.
Edgewood had also brought additional claims under the First and Fifth Amendments and state law, all of which were also dismissed.
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