Stan Steele, cemetery caretaker, surveys a map of grave locations at the St. Johannes Cemetery, adjacent to O'Hare International Airport, as a plane flies overhead.
A Bensenville church fighting the move of its 159-year-old cemetery to make way for new runways at O'Hare International Airport was dealt a blow Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear its case.
St. John's United Church of Christ wanted to press its two-year-old case to the nation's highest court to prevent the city of Chicago from bulldozing its cemetery. A federal appeals court last fall favored Chicago's expansion plans, ruling it didn't violate the church's constitutional religious rights.
Bensenville Village President John C. Geils offered his prayers to families with members who were laid to rest at St. Johannes.
"This is a clear case of discrimination and a denial of the deeply held religious beliefs of the church and the affected families," Geils said in a statement.
St. Johannes Cemetery, which has 1,400 graves, has stood in the way of one of the nation's most expensive airport expansion projects.
Rosemarie S. Andolino, executive director of the O'Hare expansion project, said in a written statement the city "will continue to move forward with acquisition of the cemetery and will be contacting next of kin in order to begin the relocation process."
Chicago is pushing an $8 billion project for a western terminal and six parallel runways. An eastern terminal and other improvements that have yet to win federal approval would bring the entire project to about $15 billion.
Andolino said the city, which is using eminent domain powers to acquire the cemetery, would treat the next of kin and church officials with "the utmost care and compassion every step of the way during this process."
Kin of people buried in the cemetery can call (773) 462-8441 to let the city know their wishes, city officials said.
Because the Supreme Court grants only a fraction of the appeal requests it gets, Monday's announcement wasn't a surprise.
"We never thought we had much of a chance with this one," Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said.
Johnson and other suburban airport foes showed no signs, though, of abandoning their lengthy and costly challenge to the expansion, saying they are banking on other lawsuits they have to topple O'Hare plans.
Among court battles still in play:
• Federal litigation in the Washington, D.C., circuit court challenges whether the Federal Aviation Administration funding OK of the project that will destroy the cemetery is barred by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
• Another lawsuit challenges the proposed destruction of the cemetery as a violation of the Illinois Constitution's religious freedom protection.