SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Construction moved forward at the site of the new St. Joseph’s High School on Wednesday, but a judge has the possibility of putting a wrench in the plans. A U.S. District Court Judge heard oral arguments on Wednesday morning over the ‘Family Dollar’ piece of land that will serve as the school’s athletic complex. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city over the transfer of land to the Catholic school.
The city is giving the land to the school, but ACLU said this violates the separation of church and state.
"They have received 1.2 million dollars with virtually no consideration offered on their end. That is a very substantial benefit and an unconstitutional one in this context,” said ACLU Attorney Gavin Rose.
Rose said this “gift” is unconstitutional because the property was never placed on the market to go to the highest bidder.
But the city claims this isn’t a “gift” it’s a transfer, and the property’s development will give back to South Bend.
"Part of how it got here was there was a misunderstanding from the very beginning that this was a gift, and really the transition was not designed that way. It was designed to provide some incentive for the high school to locate and to have benefit back to the community,” said Leone.
Leone said the facilities will also be available for the community to use.
"Part of what the agreement provides is that St. Joseph’s High School will provide certain services to make the athletic facilities available. It’s not just the football field, but also the track some of the parking lots,” said City Attorney Chuck Leone.
Leone said the city has worked with religious affiliated groups before to benefit city development. "We believe the transition with the Croc Center is very similar to what we're doing here. The Salvation Army runs the Center it is a religious organization,” said Leone.
But Rose said because this property will be used for religious purposes it’s still unconstitutional.
"You cannot give religious institutions property or benefits for direct religious indoctrination. That includes mandatory prayer by students, by faculty members, by athletic teams. That will occur on this property,”said Rose.
The judge is expected to rule on the temporary injunction by Tuesday at the earliest.
If a decision isn’t made by September 15th the school said it will have to reevaluate its construction schedule. The school is scheduled to be finished in August of 2012.