The California Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of a 1994 law that allows religious organizations to exempt themselves from local historic preservation laws. The court agreed to take the case of East Bay Local Development Corp. v. State of California, 69 Cal.App.4th 1033 (1999), in which the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the exemption for religious groups did not violate the federal and state constitutional ban on establishing religion. Historic preservation advocates lamented the ruling, and developers contended religious groups received an unfair economic advantage. About 40 years ago, the Legislature gave cities and counties authority to impose special conditions to protect locally designated historic places or structures. But a 1994 law (AB 133) said a religious corporation could exempt itself from local laws intended to protect landmarks if the religious group would suffer a financial hardship or be hindered in its religious mission. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Joe S. Gray ruled that the religious exemption was unconstitutional. But the appellate court reversed Gray. "The exemption provided by AB 133 does not constitute an endorsement of religion," the court said. "Although exemption is limited to nonprofit religiously affiliated organizations, it does no more than facilitate the efforts of those organizations to advance their own purposes." The appellate court also rejected arguments that AB 133 conflicted with the constitution's equal protection clause. In a petition to the state Supreme Court, the City and County of San Francisco and historic preservation groups said the exemption would have a devastating effect on preservation programs. They also argued that AB 133 discriminates against nonreligious owners of landmarks. State lawyers, however, followed the appellate court's reasoning that AB 133 actually aided separation of church and state by removing a government regulation affecting religious affairs. Voting to review the appellate court's opinion were Chief Justice Ronald George, and Justices Joyce Kennard, Ming Chin and Janice Brown.