Heritage Property Designations Hindering Religious Liberties?

Blog, Property Rights, Joseph Quesnel

Some religious publications are noticing that heritage designations placed on their churches are becoming an increasing problem.

Most provinces and territories have heritage designation laws that allow provinces and municipalities to place designation on properties deemed to be of historic or cultural importance. These designations limit the ability to alter that property in certain key ways.

Apparently, designated churches require municipal permission to alter any part of the building that is considered culturally significant, which includes pews, windows and altars.

Here is an explanation of the demographic conundrum : “In the archdiocese of Toronto, 100 years ago churches were predominantly constructed in the downtown core where the population was concentrated, with some churches just a few blocks from each other. Fast forward a century: most young families now settle in the suburbs. The result? An abundance of churches downtown while those in outlying regions find themselves hard pressed to accommodate increasing attendance.”

Religious organizations want to renovate or even demolish some churches to accommodate the new reality, but government regulations are making that increasingly difficult.

These churches, however, are already hard pressed to find funds for renovation given declining attendance in some congregations.

So, churches lacking the legal option to demolish under-utilized church buildings must continue to maintain them, depleting resources in other ministry areas.

Clearly, governments should work with church organizations and other holders of heritage property to ensure the law does not unnecessarily endanger their liberties to adapt to change.