City Planning Commission Doubles Down on Law Discriminating Against Churches – ACLJ Taking Action | American Center for Law and Justice
  Search  |  Login  |  Register

ACLJ Profile Completion

Verified

Law Discriminates Against Churches?

By Abigail A. Southerland1547478000000

The ACLJ currently represents two churches in Gaffney, South Carolina that have been prevented from occupying new properties and holding worship services due to an illegal and discriminatory provision in the City zoning ordinance. The provision specifically excludes religious organizations from occupying commercial and store front buildings in the Core Commercial (CC) zoning district of the City while permitting all secular organizations in the same district.

Thus, for instance, under the current provision, while any fraternal, political, or civic organization could choose to relocate to the CC district and hold weekly meetings and events in a building of its choice (subject to compliance with other regulations such as fire codes and occupancy limits), a church is not allowed to do the same.

In late November 2018, the ACLJ wrote a legal demand letter to the City notifying City officials that the City ordinance violated federal law, specifically the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). RLUIPA prohibits the government from imposing or implement a land use regulation “in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.”  42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b). In supporting the enactment of RLUIPA in 2000, Senators Hatch and Kennedy specifically recognized that

[t]he right to build, buy or rent space is an indispensable adjunct of the core First Amendment right to assemble for religious purposes . . . Churches in general, and new, small, or unfamiliar churches in particular, are frequently discriminated against on the face of zoning codes and also in the highly individualized and discretionary processes of land use regulation.  Zoning codes frequently exclude churches in places where they permit theatres, meeting halls, and other places where large groups of people assemble for secular purposes.  Or the codes permit churches only with individualized permission from the zoning board, and zoning boards use that authority in discriminatory ways.

See 146 Cong. Rec. S7774, S7775 (joint statement of Senators Hatch and Kennedy on the Religious Lane Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000).

In light of RLUIPA’s clear prohibition on unequal treatment of religious organizations, the ACLJ’s legal letter to City officials demanded that the City remove the illegal provision and allow the churches to continue with their plans to lease buildings in the CC district. The City responded by encouraging our client churches to submit a proposal to amend the ordinance, so we did.

However, at the first hearing on the proposed amendment held earlier this week the City’s Planning Commission attempted to justify the illegal provision and voted 3-2 to keep the illegal provision. The request for amendment of the ordinance is scheduled to be heard next by the City Council on February 11, 2019. A team of ACLJ attorneys will attend the hearing and provide an update once the City Council has reached a decision. The ACLJ is prepared to file a lawsuit in the event the City Council, like the Planning Commission, votes to uphold the illegal provision.

We will not allow churches to be illegally discriminated against.

Stop Discrimination Against Churches

Religious Liberty  Signatures

LOGIN

Receive the latest news, updates, and contribution opportunities from ACLJ.

$20
$40
$60
$120
$240
Make this a monthly tax-deductible gift.

As we defend churches and Christian schools from targeted discrimination and harassment at the Supreme Court, we urgently need your support. Donate today.

Email Address is required.
First Name is required.
Last Name is required.
Credit Card Number is required.
Verification Code is required.
Expiration Month is required.
Expiration Year is required.
Receive the latest news, updates, and contribution opportunities from ACLJ.
Encourage your friends to sign and donate by sharing this petition.

Trump Admin Proposes Key Guidance Protecting Prayer in School

By Jordan Sekulow1579277736085

Yesterday, President Trump unveiled significant religious liberty protections across nine federal agencies – religious liberty protections that we have long advocated. There were two major categories of action. First, the Administration is issuing new guidance to public schools nationwide ensuring...

read more

Christmas is Supposed to be a Time of Joy, not Darkness

By Edward White1577825482636

Christmas is a National holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time of joy and hope. It is not supposed to be a time of darkness, despair, or demons, but that unfortunately has been the message displayed on some State Capitol grounds with the government’s approval. Recently,

read more

Debunking the Buddhist-Based Mindfulness Fallacy in Schools

By Christina Stierhoff1572641386830

In our previous posts, we alerted you to the danger of mindfulness in schools , discussed the inherent Buddhist nature of mindfulness, and revealed the deception involved in getting these programs into schools. We thank you for rising to the challenge and partnering with us to eliminate this...

read more

Small White Cross Targeted in The Villages

By Michelle Terry1571414596691

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) represents Wayne and Bonnie Anderson, who live in The Villages, Florida. In their yard, the Andersons have placed a small, white cross as an expression of their religious speech and beliefs, and a colorful parrot as a decorative ornament. The cross and...

read more