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ACLJ Obtains Key Ruling in Our Case to Defend a Church Ministry that Restores Lives from Unlawful Government Discrimination

By 

Abigail A. Southerland

|

June 9, 2020

We’ve got a positive update in our case to defend a church from unlawful discrimination.

A federal court has ruled that the ACLJ, on behalf of the Christian ministry it represents, can move forward with its lawsuit against a county in Georgia challenging the discriminatory zoning process engaged in by numerous County officials in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Fourteenth Amendment.

As we reported earlier this year, the ACLJ filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vision Warriors Church, Inc. in federal court against Cherokee County following a series of discriminatory land use decisions made by the County in an effort to keep the ministry from using the property as intended. These alleged illegal actions by the County include, but are not limited to (1) revoking Vision Warriors’ previously granted zoning approval and tenant occupancy permit, (2) erroneously classifying Vision Warriors’ proposed use, (3) denying it a reasonable accommodation (required under federal law) and (4) amending its zoning ordinance to ensure that Vision Warriors would have to endure a laborious land use application process only to be denied.

As we’ve previously explained:

Vision Warriors is a faith community that seeks to transform men’s lives so that they can be better disciples, fathers, husbands, leaders, and friends. The ministry serves members within its community and transforms lives and restores family and other relationships.

Predictably, in response to the ACLJ’s Complaint, the County filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit asserting, among other things, that it should be granted immunity (receive protection from liability) and not be held responsible for any alleged violations of state or federal law. The County also argued that our client’s allegations did not support the claims that the County engaged in intentional discrimination against the ministry and treated it differently than similar uses in violation of federal law.

The court rejected the County’s arguments.  In its Opinion, the court noted that “the historical background and the sequence of events leading up to [the County’s] challenged actions suggests discriminatory intent,” and that this improper intent was further supported by allegations that the County deviated from its normal practices in reaching zoning decisions relating to Vision Warriors and considered unfounded neighborhood opposition when rendering its zoning decisions. The court further held that Vision Warriors had adequately alleged a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by specifically alleging that the County’s actions were “exclusionary, arbitrary, capricious and without any rational basis” and “discriminate between Plaintiff and other similarly situated individuals and property owners.”

This is a big step forward in this case allowing us to continue our fight to uphold this ministry’s critical restorative mission to bring life and hope to the hopeless and to defend their constitutional rights.

In the upcoming months, the ACLJ will be engaged in discovery in the lawsuit and will have the opportunity to review any documents exchanged by County officials and citizens targeting the ministry. The ACLJ will also be deposing the County officials involved.

Churches and ministries are a critical part in bringing healing to individuals and families in communities all across America, something we need more of, not less.

Abigail A. Southerland

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Abigail Southerland serves as Senior Litigation Counsel with the ACLJ.

Abigail A. Southerland

Abigail Southerland serves as Senior Litigation Counsel with the ACLJ.

PETITION

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Stop Discrimination Against Churches

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ACLJ Obtains Key Ruling in Our Case to Defend a Church Ministry that Restores Lives from Unlawful Government Discrimination

We’ve got a positive update in our case to defend a church from unlawful discrimination.

A federal court has ruled that the ACLJ, on behalf of the Christian ministry it represents, can move forward with its lawsuit against a county in Georgia challenging the discriminatory zoning process engaged in by numerous County officials in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Fourteenth Amendment.

As we reported earlier this year, the ACLJ filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vision Warriors Church, Inc. in federal court against Cherokee County following a series of discriminatory land use decisions made by the County in an effort to keep the ministry from using the property as intended. These alleged illegal actions by the County include, but are not limited to (1) revoking Vision Warriors’ previously granted zoning approval and tenant occupancy permit, (2) erroneously classifying Vision Warriors’ proposed use, (3) denying it a reasonable accommodation (required under federal law) and (4) amending its zoning ordinance to ensure that Vision Warriors would have to endure a laborious land use application process only to be denied.

As we’ve previously explained:

Vision Warriors is a faith community that seeks to transform men’s lives so that they can be better disciples, fathers, husbands, leaders, and friends. The ministry serves members within its community and transforms lives and restores family and other relationships.

Predictably, in response to the ACLJ’s Complaint, the County filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit asserting, among other things, that it should be granted immunity (receive protection from liability) and not be held responsible for any alleged violations of state or federal law. The County also argued that our client’s allegations did not support the claims that the County engaged in intentional discrimination against the ministry and treated it differently than similar uses in violation of federal law.

The court rejected the County’s arguments.  In its Opinion, the court noted that “the historical background and the sequence of events leading up to [the County’s] challenged actions suggests discriminatory intent,” and that this improper intent was further supported by allegations that the County deviated from its normal practices in reaching zoning decisions relating to Vision Warriors and considered unfounded neighborhood opposition when rendering its zoning decisions. The court further held that Vision Warriors had adequately alleged a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by specifically alleging that the County’s actions were “exclusionary, arbitrary, capricious and without any rational basis” and “discriminate between Plaintiff and other similarly situated individuals and property owners.”

This is a big step forward in this case allowing us to continue our fight to uphold this ministry’s critical restorative mission to bring life and hope to the hopeless and to defend their constitutional rights.

In the upcoming months, the ACLJ will be engaged in discovery in the lawsuit and will have the opportunity to review any documents exchanged by County officials and citizens targeting the ministry. The ACLJ will also be deposing the County officials involved.

Churches and ministries are a critical part in bringing healing to individuals and families in communities all across America, something we need more of, not less.

Abigail A. Southerland

More Articles

Abigail Southerland serves as Senior Litigation Counsel with the ACLJ.

Abigail A. Southerland

Abigail Southerland serves as Senior Litigation Counsel with the ACLJ.

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PETITION

187,682 Signatures

Stop Discrimination Against Churches

Read Full Petition
First Name is required
Last Name is required
Email is required
Zip Code is required

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