Would-Be Frat House Can't Sell Monastery Line
CHICAGO (CN) - A fraternity's mission statement, "In the Service of God and Man," does not make it a monastic order able to circumvent zoning law, a federal judge ruled.
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Nathan Myers bought a house in Chicago, intending to rent it to the Loyola University chapter of Sigma Pi.
Because the house was in a zoning area that prohibited fraternities, however, the city told Myers he would have to apply for a special-use permit.
After discovering that the zoning ordinance cannot restrict monasteries and convents, Myers claimed that "Sigma Pi's occupancy would not make the property a frat house, but a monastery," according to the court.
He based this claim on the fraternity's mission statement, or "vow" as Myers called it, "In the Service of God and Man."
Alpha Delta Gamma Fraternity owns a house down the street from Myers' property, but it was bought decades ago, and is legal under the zoning ordinance's grandfather clause.
U.S. District Judge John Tharp Jr. found that city officials did not violate Myer's right to equal protection by requiring him to apply for a special-use permit.
Myers' "alleged injury is caused by the defendants' refusal to treat the property as a 'monastery,'" Tharp wrote. "But he cannot show that the defendants acted irrationally in interpreting and enforcing the zoning ordinance in a way that differentiates between a college frat house and a monastery. No matter how closely Sigma Pi hews to the letter of its motto, Myers has fallen far short of proving that the Sigma Pi fraternity brothers are actual Religious Brothers, that is, in the words of the ordinance, 'persons (such as nuns or monks) under religious vows.'"
"Myers cannot point to any instance in which the city allowed a fraternity or sorority house to move into an RT4 district without a special use permit after 1970, when the use was changed from permitted to special," he added. "He certainly has no evidence that ADG [Alpha Delta Gamma] or any other fraternity or sorority house was relieved of the requirement because the City categorized it as a 'convent or monastery.'"
"Therefore, Myers can do no more than show that his venture was thwarted by an ordinance that applies equally to all similarly situated property owners. And 'thwarted' is a strong word since he didn't seek a special use permit before suing and so did not know whether the use might have been allowed. His equal protection claim therefore fails."