459 U.S. 116 (1982), 81-878, Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 81-878
Citation:459 U.S. 116, 103 S.Ct. 505, 74 L.Ed.2d 297
Party Name:Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc.
Case Date:December 13, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 116

459 U.S. 116 (1982)

103 S.Ct. 505, 74 L.Ed.2d 297



Grendel's Den, Inc.

No. 81-878

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 13, 1982

Argued October 4, 1982




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. 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 [103 S.Ct. 507] judgment is not merited. Pp. 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. 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. 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, 623. Few entanglements could be more offensive to the spirit of the Constitution. Pp. 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. 127

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this appeal is whether a Massachusetts statute, which vests in the governing bodies of churches and schools the power effectively to veto applications for liquor licenses within a 500-foot radius of the church or school, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.



Appellee operates a restaurant located in the Harvard Square area of Cambridge, Mass. The Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Parish is located adjacent to the restaurant; the back walls of the two buildings are 10 feet apart. In 1977, appellee applied to the Cambridge License Commission for approval of an alcoholic beverages license for the restaurant.

Section 16C of Chapter 138 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides: "Premises . . . located within a radius of five hundred feet of a church or school shall not be licensed for the sale of alcoholic beverages if the governing body of such church or school files written objection thereto."1

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Holy Cross Church objected to appellee's application, expressing concern over "having so many licenses so near" (emphasis in original).2 The License Commission voted to deny the application, citing only the objection of Holy Cross Church and noting that the church "is within 10 feet of the proposed location."

On appeal, the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission upheld the License Commission's action. The Beverages Control Commission found that "the church's objection under Section 16C was [103 S.Ct. 508] the only basis on which the [1icense] was denied."

Appellee then sued the License Commission and the Beverages Control Commission in United States District Court. Relief was sought on the grounds that § 16C, on its face and as applied, violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the Sherman Act.

The suit was voluntarily continued pending the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in a similar challenge to § 16C, Arno v. Alcoholic Beverages Control Comm'n, 377 Mass. 83, 384 N.E.2d 1223 (1979). In Arno,the Massachusetts court characterized § 16C as delegating a

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"veto power" to the specified institutions, id. at 89, 384 N.E.2d at 1227, but upheld the statute against Due Process and Establishment Clause challenges. Thereafter, the District Court denied appellants' motion to dismiss.

On the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court declined to follow the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision in Arno, supra. The District Court held that § 16C violated the Due Process Clause and the Establishment Clause, and held § 16C void on its face, Grendel's Den, Inc. v. Goodwin, 495 F.Supp. 761 (Mass.1980). The District Court rejected appellee's equal protection arguments, but held that the State's actions were not immune from antitrust review under the doctrine of Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943). It certified the judgment to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292, and the Court of Appeals accepted certification.

A panel of the First Circuit, in a divided opinion, reversed the District Court on the Due Process and Establishment Clause arguments, but affirmed its antitrust analysis, Grendel's Den, Inc. v. Goodwin, 662 F.2d 88 (1981).

Appellee's motion for rehearing en banc was granted, and the en banc court, in a divided opinion, affirmed the District Court's judgment on Establishment Clause grounds without reaching the due process or antitrust claims, Grendel's Den, Inc. v. Goodwin, 662 F.2d 102 (1981).


The Court of Appeals noted that appellee does not contend that § 16C lacks a secular purpose, and turned to the question of

whether the law "has the direct and immediate effect of advancing religion," as contrasted with "only a remote and incidental effect advantageous to religious institutions,"

id. at 104 (emphasis in original), quoting Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 783, n. 39 (1973). The court concluded that § 16C confers a direct and substantial

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benefit upon religions by "the grant of a veto power over liquor sales in roughly one million square feet . . . of what may be a city's most commercially valuable sites," 662 F.2d at 105.

The court acknowledged that § 16C "extends its benefits beyond churches to schools," but concluded that the inclusion of schools "does not dilute [the statute's] forbidden religious classification," since § 16C does not "encompass all who are otherwise similarly situated to churches in all respects except dedication to `divine worship.'" Id. at 106-107 (footnote omitted). In the view of the Court of Appeals, this "explicit religious discrimination," id. at 105, provided an additional basis for its holding that § 16C violates the Establishment Clause.

The court found nothing in the Twenty-first Amendment to alter its conclusion, and affirmed the District Court's holding that § 16C is facially unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

We noted probable jurisdiction, 454 U.S. 1140 (1982), and we affirm.

[103 S.Ct. 509] II


Appellants contend that the State may, without impinging on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, enforce what it describes as a "zoning" law in order to shield schools and places of divine worship from the presence nearby of liquor-dispensing establishments. It is also contended that a zone of protection around churches and schools is essential to protect diverse centers of spiritual, educational, and cultural enrichment. It is to that end that the State has vested in the governing bodies of all schools, public or private, and all churches,3 the power to prevent the issuance

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of liquor licenses for any premises within 500 feet of their institutions.

Plainly, schools and churches have a valid interest in being insulated from certain kinds of commercial establishments, including those dispensing liquor. Zoning laws have long been employed to this end, and there can be little doubt about the power of a state to regulate the environment in the vicinity of schools, churches, hospitals, and the like by exercise of reasonable zoning laws.

We have upheld reasonable zoning ordinances regulating the location of so-called "adult" theaters, see Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50, 62 63 (1976); and in Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104 (1972), we recognized the legitimate governmental interest in protecting the environment around certain institutions when we sustained an ordinance prohibiting willfully making, on grounds adjacent to a school, noises which are disturbing to the good order of the school sessions.

The zoning function is traditionally a governmental task requiring the "balancing [of] numerous competing considerations," and courts should properly "refrain from reviewing the merits of [such] decisions, absent a showing of arbitrariness or irrationality." Arlington...

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