Your Views: City should challenge federal overreach

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To the editor:

The issue of the halal slaughterhouse was a real test of how committed city hall is to the previous city council’s Nov. 19, 2016 “statement on inclusiveness” – which in past letters I’ve characterized as a “Pollyanna policy.” Those who cheered this resolution’s adoption should understand that being welcoming in the sense the resolution intends, versus being even-handed and neutral, sometimes might require sacrifice on others’ part to be truly welcoming, even if that sacrifice literally stinks.

But I do have an issue with relying on the 2000 federal “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act” which requires cities that accept federal funds to give greater deference in their zoning and land use decisions to matters impacting freedom of worship. This federal requirement has not yet been tested in court: The Supreme Court struck down Congress’ previous attempt at this sort of meddling in local matters, and legal scholars are divided over whether this one would withstand judicial review.

While Alexandria could have been the place responsible for striking down this constitutionally dubious law, which privileges religion over other public uses seemingly contrary to the Supreme Court’s finding that the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision which burdens a religious practice is not a violation of freedom of religion.

Were city hall to rely on the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act” to approve an otherwise inappropriate special use permit, its rationale would be closer than it cares to concede to Masterpiece Cakeshop’s insistence that the owner be exempted from overall civil rights law to accommodate his religious beliefs in his conduct of commerce by allowing him to refuse to decorate wedding cakes for same-sex marriages.

Nor does city hall’s hesitance to challenge potential federal overreach stop there. City hall is implementing the Federal Communications Commission’s mandate to give cell phone companies carte blanche to install small cell facilities on light and power poles on our streets.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai nixed net neutrality in an avalanche of “free market” platitudes, but issued federal pre-emption regulations treating cell phone companies not as a free market, but as utilities with carte blanche to put facilities on local streets like Dominion and other utilities. Local governments are not even allowed to demand electromagnetic radiation readings for cell facilities on light and power poles a few feet from folks’ bedroom windows. But, instead of challenging this federal overreach, city hall acquiesces to it.

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria

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