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TAKINGS LEGISLATION VERSUS
THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN LAND ETHIC

"THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND,
THIS LAND IS GOD'S LAND":

TAKINGS LEGISLATION VERSUS
THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN LAND ETHIC

by Ann Alexander, Fred Clark, Fred Krueger, and Stan LeQuire


TAKINGS: AN INTRODUCTION

In recent years, the growing body of environmental and land use laws enacted in this country has provoked a parallel growth in hostility toward such laws. Reflecting this hostility is the popularity of the "Wise Use" and "property rights" movements, which urge increased privatization of land and resources, and oppose laws that restrict the use and development of privately-owned land.

At the leading edge of these movements' agenda is the "takings" issue. "Takings" is the popular term for a growing controversy about the effect of environmental laws on private property rights. This ominous-sounding word reflects the view that the government, by enacting environmental and land use regulations that diminish the value of privately-owned land, is effectively "taking" that land away. To combat this perceived abuse, some property rights advocates have proposed "takings legislation" which would require that property owners be compensated by the government for such reductions in land value, and have been battling in court for landowner compensation under existing law.

Although the takings legislation most recently proposed in Congress was defeated, the controversy over this issue nonetheless continues to rage in politics and the media, and takings bills continue to be proposed in state legislatures. Environmentalists denounce takings legislation as a back-door attempt by big business to roll back thirty years of essential protective laws, while the property rights advocates decry the unfairness of making private landowners "pay" for these laws through diminished property value. Coloring this debate is the frequent use of Christian language in support of property rights, whose defenders often cite Scripture passages to support the view that their "God-given" rights are being violated by government regulation.

As believers, our obligation is to consider these claims with care and humility in light of Scripture, particularly where they invoke the name of the Creator. Before reaching any conclusion, we must decide for ourselves whether the claims are consistent with the underpinnings of our Christian faith, particularly with respect to scriptural teaching concerning our relationship with the land. The matter must be considered prayerfully and prudently, with minds renewed by Christ (Romans 12:2) and Christ's selfless, servant heart (Matthew 23:11, John 13:1-17). We must evaluate all claims in light of the whole of Scripture, taking nothing out of context, and resisting the temptation to give in to the simplistic answers and appeals to selfishness that political debates like this one so frequently offer.

We have endeavored to do so, and the results are described in this booklet. We have concluded that there is no scriptural basis for the legislative proposals that have been put forth to date by the property rights movement. Quite on the contrary, these proposals are premised on beliefs that Scripture consistently and emphatically demands that we reject. Overall, we believe that the spirit, attitudes, and assumptions that underlie the property rights movement are at odds with the scriptural ethic governing our relationship with the land and our neighbors who dwell in it.

We recognize that the legal issues are complex. We must address any legitimate concerns that may be raised concerning justice in the construction and application of any laws, not excepting environmental laws. We must also be open to reasonable legislative proposals aimed at more fairly distributing the economic impact of environmental regulation. However, we are fully convinced that the answers do not lie in the extreme rhetoric and recommendations of the property rights movement.

We note also that the response of secular environmental groups to takings legislation proposals has been set forth at length in popularly available books, articles, and pamphlets. These publications are worth reading by anyone desiring a deeper understanding of the political and legal issues inherent in the takings debate. The aim of this pamphlet is not to repeat these secular arguments, or to rephrase them in Christian language. Rather, we seek to step outside the framework of secular arguments and view the issue, as believers must, through the lens of Scripture and with minds renewed by Christ.

The discussion that follows provides a brief history of the takings controversy, and describes in more detail the basis for our conclusion that many of the views expressed by the property rights movement are not firmly grounded in Scripture. We then discuss ways in which Scripture should guide us in considering the issues raised by the takings debate, and offer guidelines putting faith into action to oppose this movement.