By Sean Regan

In partially overturning the decision by the Land Court in Hume Lake Christian Camps, INC. Vs. Planning Board Of Monterey, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts strengthens protections provided to religious and educational institutions under the Dover Amendment.

The Dover Amendment G. L. c. 40A, § 3. is a provision under Massachusetts law that grants certain protections and exemptions for religious and educational institutions regarding zoning and land use regulations to ensure that these institutions can carry out their missions without unnecessary interference from local zoning laws. It aims to protect the constitutional rights of religious freedom and the promotion of education, inter alia, even if it means deviating from typical zoning requirements.

In this case the court was faced with the question of whether the plaintiff’s proposal to build a recreational vehicle (RV) camp on its campground was an exempted use within the meaning of the Dover Amendment. The plaintiff, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Inc. (Hume), is a nonprofit Christian organization that operates camps in service of its mission to “evangelize the world.”  Hume operates a camp in Monterey and provides camp attendees chapel sessions, religious instruction, and opportunities for spiritual reflection, as well as secular recreational activities.  Hume applied to the defendant Planning Board of Monterey (board) to build an RV camp on the grounds of its Monterey property. The RV camp would be used to house families who attend camp sessions, as well as volunteers and seasonal staff who perform a variety of duties at the camp. The board denied Hume’s application, on the ground that the RV camp would not be an exempt religious use under the terms of the Dover Amendment.

The board argued, in essence, that the use as an RV camp would not serve a religious purpose because staying in a trailer home is not a religious activity. As part of a broader explanation of analysis under Dover, the court held that this argument applied the religious purposes test too narrowly, as a use of land or structures can serve a religious purpose without itself being a form of religious practice. As an example, citing other relevant cases, the court provided that cooking food, in itself may not be a religious activity, but a kitchen nonetheless serves a religious purpose if it is used to feed the members of a congregation. Likewise, under Hume’s proposal, the RV camp would provide lodging to families so that they could attend a religious camp programs. Also, the primary purpose of housing volunteers and seasonal staff at the RV camp would be to facilitate the operation, maintenance, and improvement of Hume, and thereby supports Hume’s religious mission. Further, the court reasoned that to the extent that Hume allows “nonbelievers” to attend camp programs, it does so in service of proselytization. As the senior camp director at Hume testified, “if we were only to allow believers here, this would be more of a . . . club and not really meet that evangelistic nature.”

The court concluded that the primary or dominant purpose of Hume is to advance their evangelical mission. Because all of the proposed uses of the RV camp would serve to aid Hume in carrying out this mission, they further concluded that the primary or dominant purpose of the RV camp would be a religiously significant goal thereby meeting the Dover Test. Accordingly, the proposed RV camp is an exempt use under the Dover Amendment.

For a copy of the Decision [click here].

Written by
Sean Regan
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