Court Rules in Favor of Arizona Church

by | Jul 13, 2011 | Charisma Archive

church v. stateA church in Yuma, Ariz., faced unfair treatment when it was left
paying the mortgage on a building the city would not allow it to
occupy.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded
organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their
faith, announced Tuesday that the church
won its legal battle on appeal and can now seek damages, including
payment for the money it lost.

“Churches should not be singled out for discrimination by a
city’s zoning restrictions,” says Byron Babione, who argued
before the 9th Circuit in April of last year. “Government officials
cannot use broad commercial reasons to favor non-religious businesses
or membership organizations over religious ones. The city’s actions
left this small congregation with a mortgage to pay on a building it
couldn’t use for two years while it had to pay for another meeting
place at the same time.”

In a lawsuit ADF attorneys filed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the 9th Circuit ruled that the city did not treat the church equally
with similarly situated groups and businesses as required by federal
law. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
protects churches from discrimination in land use disputes with local
governments.

The court wrote in its opinion: “It is hard to see how an
express exclusion of ‘religious organizations’ from uses
permitted as of right by other ‘membership organizations’ could
be other than ‘less than equal terms’ for religious
organizations.”

Even though businesses and other membership organizations can
build “as of right,” meaning they do not need a special permit,
the city requires religious organizations to obtain a conditional use
permit to operate. The city refused the church’s permit request in
2007 on the basis that the church would “blight” an arts and
entertainment district in the city’s Old Town District.

The court noted that “many of the uses permitted as of right
would have the same practical effect as a church of blighting a
potential block of bars and nightclubs.

“An apartment building taking up the whole block may be
developed as of right, and so may a post office or prison. Prisons
have bars, but not the kind promoting ‘entertainment.’ Thus the
ordinance before us expressly treats religious organizations on a
less than equal basis.”

Attorneys at ADF filed the lawsuit Centro Familiar Cristiano
Buenos Nuevas Christian Church v. City of Yuma
in
May 2008. A federal judge ruled against the church in January 2009,
and ADF appealed to the 9th Circuit. The U.S. Department of Justice
filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the church in August
2009 and argued before the 9th Circuit in April 2010.

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