Bensenville’s last chance for a favorable ruling regarding the removal or graves at a local cemetery to make way for O’Hare International Airport expansion may lie with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied the village and St. John’s United Church of Christ, which owns the cemetery adjacent to O’Hare, the opportunity to review a case challenging the constitutionality of removing graves under the First Amendment.
Last September, the court ruled in favor of the city of Chicago that the graves can be moved.
Joe Karaganis, an attorney for the village of Bensenville and the church, said the petition to rehear the case was “a longshot,” because the court rarely re-hears cases. However, he said he felt there was some merit to the request.
In the request, the village and church pointed out that one of the three judges offered a dissenting opinion in their favor in the original decision, which Karaganis said gave the appeals more weight.
Bensenville and St. John’s maintain that relocating the graves from land owned by the church is a violation of the Illinois Religious Freedom of Restoration Act and First Amendment religious protection rights.
The next step, Karaganis said, is to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
“While this a petition also has long odds of getting accepted, we believe that the First Amendment issue raised by the decision, especially as set forth in the dissent, has a worthwhile chance of being granted,” he said.
While the church and village have promised to take the fight to the Supreme Court, Chicago is using the latest court rulings to move forward with the purchase of both the cemetery and other properties needed under the plan.
“We are pleased with the court’s order in this regard,” said Rosemarie S. Andolino, executive director of Chicago’s O’Hare Modernization Program. “We will continue to move forward with the acquisition process for St. Johannes Cemetery, and welcome the opportunity to work with church officials during this process.”
Chicago offered $630,000 to buy St. Johannes Cemetery in March 2006. That offer was rejected, and in October, the city filed a complaint for condemnation to acquire the cemetery in the circuit court of DuPage County. That case is still pending.
While the court fight over the cemetery continues, the city of Chicago continues to purchase properties in the village needed as part of the airport expansion.
The city has already acquired 533 of the 611 parcels needed in the village of Bensenville. Of those, 473 parcels are vacant and the owners have relocated.