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“While of relatively recent construction, the Third Church of Christ, Scientist/Christian Science Monitor building complex is a striking composition of importance to Washington as one of the few examples of Brutalism as a style and as characterized by a particular construction method,” the Historic Preservation Office said. “Third Church is a rare Modernist church in the city and the complex possesses amazingly high integrity, down to the original carpeting and seat upholstery in the church auditorium.”

The church’s supporters say the Historic Preservation Office’s dispute with the church is an example of government out of control.

“The Historical Preservation Office of D.C. government has frankly lost its way,” said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a community service group representing 44 church congregations in the Washington area. “This is a case by far of overreaching and overzealousness.”

Washington area religious leaders normally support historic preservation, he said. Some of their churches date to the founding of the United States, provided housing for the earliest immigrants and links along the pre-Civil War underground railroad for escaped slaves, all of which contributed to their significance as historic landmarks.

“That’s not the case here,” Mr. Lynch said. “This is a 37-year-old building with very little historical significance or activity.”

Rather than maintain its historic landmark designation, “The mayor needs to clean house at the Historic Preservation Office,” Mr. Lynch said.

Attorneys for the church acknowledge they have taken on a big challenge by arguing religious freedom is the key issue in the dispute.

“These cases can take many years to defend and millions of dollars to resolve,” said Roman P. Storzer, a Washington attorney.