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.

Buddhist Indoctrination Update: Exposing the Intent

By Abigail A. Southerland1550073750130

We recently made you aware of the widespread trend sweeping the nation wherein public schools incorporate Buddhist-based mindfulness practices into the everyday curriculum of elementary school age children. We’ve been contacted by parents of elementary, middle, and high school students from over a...

read more

Discrimination Against Churches Headed to Supreme Court

By Laura Hernandez1549467673007

For years the ACLJ has defended religious organizations against discrimination. That includes churches and Christian schools. The Tree of Life Christian School has been forbidden by the local government from developing a building and property it acquired for a new school in order to consolidate its...

read more

ACLJ Sends FOIA on Buddhist Indoctrination in Schools

By Benjamin P. Sisney1548948730892

Last month, we told you about a disturbing development: Young elementary school students are being forced to participate in Buddhist-based meditation in public schools. Then, we learned that federal government grant funds have been awarded to implement these so-called mindfulness programs on...

read more

Jay Sekulow Live: Buddhist Meditation in Schools

By Jay Sekulow1545337341824

When they took prayer out of the classroom, it appears what they meant was Christian prayer. Apparently, Buddhism is not only okay, the government is willing to pay for it with your tax dollars. On today’s broadcast, we discussed how public schools in several states are incorporating mandatory...

read more