Washington Law Review


Jordan Talge


The Washington State Constitution protects the free exercise of religion. It also vests strong police power in local governments. When these two constitutional provisions conflict, the Washington State Supreme Court must draw the line between valid police power action and impermissible burden on free exercise. In City of Woodinville v. Northshore United Church of Christ, a municipal government crossed that line. The City of Woodinville, Washington refused to consider a church’s application to host a homeless encampment. The Court held this outright refusal to be an unjustified infringement on the church’s free exercise of religion. The Court did not, however, articulate permissible steps a municipality could take to regulate homeless encampments on church property. Absent further guidance on the appropriate reach of homeless encampment ordinances, religious organizations and municipalities lack clarity in hosting and regulating these sites. More than a dozen municipalities in Washington have taken action to regulate temporary homeless encampments, and legal challenges surrounding these encampments are likely to persist. This Comment applies the Washington State Supreme Court’s strict scrutiny test to municipal homeless encampment regulations, distinguishing valid exercises of police power from undue restrictions on religious free exercise.

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