To Richard and Joan Downing, the 24-foot-tall cross on a hilltop on their [800-acre] property is an expression of their faith. To a state commission that regulates land use, it is out of character with the natural beauty of the rural neighborhood and should come down.
-- From "Family fighting for their cross" by Dave Gram, Associated Press 8/16/10
The Downings, lifelong Roman Catholics in their late 70s, own about 800 acres outside the village of Lyndonville [Vermont]. In 2005, they opened a chapel on their property to serve their family: seven children, three of them adopted, and the 35 foster children they raised, mainly at their other home in Sherborn, Mass.
The couple decided two years after building the chapel to add a Cross . . .
The issue went before the District 7 Environmental Commission, and the commission ruled that the Downings would need an amended permit for the cross. When the Downings applied, the commission denied the amended permit, saying that under Vermont's land-use law, the cross would create "an adverse effect on the scenic or natural beauty of the area ...."
Assistant Attorney General Robert McDougall, representing the state, says that when the issue is religious liberty, the courts usually try to see whether restrictions pose a "substantial burden" on someone's free exercise of their faith.
Another round of legal arguments is expected this month.
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