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Archive for Sunday, March 18, 2007

Court favors nuns in demolition case

Judge: First Amendment rights were violated

March 18, 2007

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— The nuns of a Roman Catholic order in northeast Kansas are giving thanks for a federal judge's ruling that moves them closer to demolishing an administration building that has outlived its usefulness.

Atchison's city commissioners refused in 2005 to grant a permit to the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica to raze the five-story, 170,000-square-foot building that once housed dormitories, classrooms and other facilities for students and faculty.

Working with civic leaders, the nuns spent more than a decade trying to find programs and tenants that could use the huge space.

But no workable solution was found and the building has sat unused, both a financial drain and, as the nuns say on their Web site, a "spiritual drain" on their community. They filed suit in 2006.

This week, a federal judge ruled that city officials' refusal to grant the demolition permit violated the nuns' First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

"We're pleased with the ruling," said Sister Anne Shepard, prioress of Mount St. Scholastica. "That's an understatement."

Atchison Mayor Dan Garrity said it was unlikely the city will appeal. The City Commission could vote as early as Monday to grant the demolition permit, he said.

Once the building is gone, the nuns hope to use the space for an outdoor sanctuary for meditation and prayer.

The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica have been in Atchison since November 1863. Education is the heart of their ministry, which also extends to health care, justice and spiritual pursuits.

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