by Kara Platoni
Last fall we brought you the story of the battle between Alameda County and Redwood Christian Schools, a religious educational organization that proposed building a 650-student private junior/senior high in the midst of a bucolic neighborhood in unincorporated Castro Valley. The neighbors strenuously objected, and the county nixed the proposal, saying it was too large for a tiny neighborhood and violated existing zoning law. Redwood Christian responded with a $30 million lawsuit alleging that the county discriminates against religious schools, that its First Amendment freedoms were being infringed, and that without the new campus, Redwood Christian might be forced out of business. Joining their their suit was the Washington, DC-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has filed dozens of similar suits across the nation, arguing that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, or RLUIPA, compels public officials to give preferential status to religious land use proposals. The county vehemently denied this interpretation and argued that Redwood Christian was attempting to circumvent zoning law for its own profit. After seven years of the lawsuit working its way through the courts, on Friday, a federal jury unanimously sided with the county. "Relief is the first word that comes to my mind," says neighbor Francois Koutchouk, who led some of the local resistance to the school. But after such a long legal battle, he's sure they haven't heard the end of it. "I suspect it will continue to make its way towards the Supreme Court," he says. Indeed, the attorney from the Becket Fund says they intend to appeal.