|Photo by Roger Price, and used with permission.|
The city of Fredericksburg, Va., has
refused to allow a church to start a school program for mentally and
emotionally challenged children, despite a recommendation of approval
by city planning officials.
The Alliance Defense Fund filed a
lawsuit Monday against the city, saying it is violating federal laws and that it
has no real reasons to deny the permit.
“Churches shouldn’t be singled out
for discrimination, especially when attempting to expand their
ministries to safely serve the needs of the community—in this case,
disabled children,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley says.
Calvary Christian Church applied for a
permit to include a day school for children who have an Individual
Education Plan, which states they would academically succeed in the
environment of a private day school. The church decided to open the day school after Pastor Michael Hirsch felt God leading him and the church to reach out to disabled children.
Although Fredericksburg’s Planning
Commission recommended approval for the school program after a public
hearing, the city council denied a special-use permit based on
supposed safety concern for other children attending the church’s
daycare. However, the church’s daycare children would only be in
attendance before or after the disabled children were present.
“No disabled students would even be
on campus at the same time as other students, and the church has the
approval of planning officials because it has met all zoning
requirements to run such a facility,” Stanley argues. “There’s
no legitimate reason for a denial, so the city’s stated reasons
only serve to feed old stereotypes about the disabled.”
According to the ADF, the city council
was also concerned “that Fredericksburg was becoming ‘saturated’
with facilities that provide services to the disabled.”
The denial of the permit is a violation
of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,
ADF attorneys argue, as the act prevents zoning officials from
singling out churches for discriminatory treatment. The lawsuit also
argues that the city council has violated the Americans with
Disabilities Act, which says the government cannot unlawfully
discriminate against children because of their disabilities.
The lawsuit, Calvary Christian Church
v. City of Fredericksburg, was filed with the U.S. District Court for
the Eastern District of Virginia.