After a five-year battle—which culminated in a 6-day jury trial in federal court—Candlehouse Teen Challenge will finally have the opportunity to open the doors of its property in Vestal, New York, to minister to women who are trying to overcome life-controlling issues. “This is a tremendous victory and vindication for this organization, and we are pleased that the jury recognized the injustice suffered by Candlehouse and returned a verdict that will permit Candlehouse to resume its important mission,” said Abigail Southerland, ACLJ Litigation Counsel.
When Candlehouse first approached the Town of Vestal in 2008 about its intention to buy a local church property for its Christian residential program, Town officials gave every indication that the proposed use would be approved. When neighboring residents of the property began to loudly voice their opposition to Candlehouse’s plans, however, the Town officials adopted the unfounded fears of the neighbors, reversed course, and, over the next two years repeatedly denied Candlehouse’s requests for approval of its residential program.
Unable to utilize its property for its ministry purposes, Candlehouse, represented by the ACLJ, filed suit in federal court based on the Town’s blatant discrimination against it and its students. Tuesday afternoon, after hearing over a week of testimony, including admissions by Town officials that they were biased against Candlehouse because the women served by the ministry would be recovering from addictions, the jury returned a verdict fully in favor of Candlehouse.
Specifically, the jury found that the Town intentionally discriminated against Candlehouse in the process of applying its local zoning laws and then failed to grant Candlehouse a reasonable accommodation, as required by federal non-discrimination laws, that would allow Candlehouse’s students to reside on the property.
According to ACLJ Litigation Counsel Carly Gammill, “This verdict not only allows Candlehouse to re-open its doors to hurting women in need of ministry and healing, but sends a clear message that should deter other governmental bodies from allowing their decisions to be influenced by the ‘not in my backyard’ attitude.”
This article was written by ACLJ Attorneys Abigail Southerland and Carly Gammill.
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