Thoughts that the Catholic Church might understand the importance of property rights took a blow in Pennsylvania recently. The Pennsyvania courts recently invalidated the seizure of a home in Philadelphia by the Church sponsored Hope Partnership for Education. The partnership is a joint project of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and the Sisters of Mercy religious orders. According to the majority, the partnership “designated the land that it wanted and requested the authority to acquire it, and the authoirty proceeded to do so.” The court threw out the use of eminent domain becaseu of the “entanglement” between church and state. The case shows two things: 1) property rights are effectively dead. The idea that a private entity could target other private property and use the force of government to get it forcefully was not the issue. The entanglement between church and state was. 2) The Catholic Church needs an education on the role property rights plays in securing civil and religeous liberties. Can eminent domain be a backdoor way for more powerfuly religeons to bully other less powerful religeons around? Of course, for Catholics, the greater concern might be that a Church-sponsored organization did not see itself pursuing its spiritual mission–it was engaged in secular school building. This is yet more evidence of how far property rights have fallen in popular understanding and culture. Oh, for those thinking this is more libertarian Church bashing–I’m Catholic.
Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.