$262,000 for a Steeple? When Government Micromanaging Goes Too Far

September 1, 2017

by Terry Schilling


This article is part of series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

If you’ve ever debated common sense issues like protecting the right to life or religious freedom, you’ve probably heard a liberal use the tired, old “Separation of Church and State” argument. All too often, however, the separation of church and state seems to go only one way — allowing for the state to interfere with church.

To take one example, as Helen Krieble details in the Liberty Minute “Wooden Steeples,” this was recently the case for a church in Virginia:

An historic church in Warrenton, Virginia is a landmark recognized by a 65-foot steeple. But 130 years of weather have not been good to that steeple, which was rotting and falling apart.

The congregation raised enough money to have the steeple replaced with an exact replica made of fiberglass so it would be maintenance free. But the city blocked the replacement — demanding the church spend over $262,000 to rebuild the steeple with specific kinds of wood.

They should’ve looked through the Lens of Liberty, and realized that church was none of the government’s business. A town government has important duties, such as maintaining roads, but their duties do not include micromanaging people’s steeples.

According to a local resident in a letter to the editor, the congregation of the Warrenton Baptist Church was simply attempting to use materials “similar to what the US government uses on Independence Hall grounds in Philadelphia.” If this resident is correct, it would appear to be common sense that what is legal and fair for one historical building should be acceptable for another.

While municipalities each have their own laws and ordinances, we should all be able to agree that this type of micromanaging of private affairs takes things way too far. If it is good enough for Independence Hall and a city as historic as Philadelphia, it should be more than good enough for any historic town.

As Krieble aptly notes, local governments have much more important duties to perform — from the maintenance of roads and public spaces to the funding and administration of local police forces. Big shots in City Hall should not be flexing their muscles at the expense of their citizens.

Local governments should look through the Lens of Liberty before requiring citizens and groups to take actions that are completely averse to common sense.


Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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