Separation of Church and State?

A church in downtown Warrenton, Virginia must use local government-mandated wood instead of fiberglass to fully restore its deteriorating steeple – at a cost of $262,000 more for the church.

City Tells Church It Must Spend $262,000

For over 130 years, the Warrenton Baptist Church in Virginia has been recognized by its intricately-carved 65-foot steeple. While the structure has remained strong over the years, time and weather have taken a toll on the shingles, siding and molding. Church members proposed replacing the current wood steeple with a fiberglass replica, but city officials rejected the plan, instead demanding the church pay an estimated $262,000 more than they have budgeted to have the existing steeple fully restored with wood.

The Warrenton Architectural Review Board rejected the fiberglass steeple replacement on the grounds that the material would “clash” with the vintage appearance of the historic district in which the church was located. Church officials appealed the decision to the Warrenton Town Council, but the Council unanimously rejected their appeal. Members of the church then filed suit in the Circuit Court of Fauquier County, arguing that the decision was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

The church had preferred to spend the funds on charitable works, and even considered relocating. Ultimately, however, it decided to acquiesce to the city’s demands.

Sources: Washington Post (February 22, 2004), Fauquier Citizen, Fauquier Times-Democrat

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