Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc.,
459 U.S. 116 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U.S. 116 (1982)

Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc.

No. 81-878

Argued October 4, 1982

Decided December 13, 1982

459 U.S. 116


A Massachusetts statute (§ 16C) vests in the governing bodies of schools and churches the power to prevent issuance of liquor licenses for premises within a 500-foot radius of the church or school by objecting to the license applications. Appellee restaurant operator's application for a liquor license was denied when a church located 10 feet from the restaurant objected to the application. Appellee then sued the licensing authorities in Federal District Court, claiming that § 16C, on its face and as applied, violated, inter alia, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The District Court held that § 16C is facially unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 16C violates the Establishment Clause. Pp. 459 U. S. 120-127.

(a) Section 16C is not simply a legislative exercise of zoning power but delegates to private, nongovernmental entities power to reject certain liquor license applications, a power ordinarily vested in governmental agencies. Under these circumstances, the deference normally due a legislative zoning judgment is not merited. Pp. 459 U. S. 120-122.

(b) The valid secular objective of 16C in protecting schools and churches from the commotion associated with liquor outlets may readily be accomplished by other means. Pp. 459 U. S. 123-124.

(c) The churches' power under 16C is standardless, calling for no reasons, findings, or reasoned conclusions, and can be seen as having a "primary" and "principal" effect of advancing religion. Pp. 459 U. S. 125-126.

(d) Section 16C substitutes the unilateral and absolute power of a church for the reasoned decisionmaking of a public legislative body acting on evidence and guided by standards on issues with significant economic and political implications, and thus enmeshes churches in the processes of government and creates the danger of "[p]olitical fragmentation and divisiveness on religious lines," Lemon v. Kurzman, 403 U. S. 602, 403 U. S. 623. Few entanglements could be more offensive to the spirit of the Constitution. Pp. 459 U. S. 126-127.

662 F.2d 102, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 459 U. S. 127

Page 459 U. S. 117

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