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Published On: Fri, Feb 5th, 2016

ADF battles to protect Michigan’s church, right to meet in community building

A federal court issued an order Monday that prevents the city of Lansing’s Housing Commission from barring a Michigan church, represented by an Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney, from community meeting space while the church’s lawsuit against the commission moves forward.

Even though the Lansing Housing Commission allowed other groups, including other churches, to use community rooms at its public housing developments, it told His Healing Hands Church that it couldn’t meet in any of the rooms because the meetings are of a religious nature. As a result, the church, which primarily serves housing residents, had been forced to hold its meetings at outdoor locations nearby because the inability to transport residents – many of whom are children – to another location made meeting at another location practically impossible.

Photo of the US Constitution taken in the rotunda of the National Archives photo Mr. T in DC via Flickr

Photo of the US Constitution taken in the rotunda of the National Archives photo Mr. T in DC via Flickr

“The government isn’t being neutral on religion when it singles out a religious community group and treats it worse than everyone else,” said Rickard, Denney, Garno & Associates partner Timothy W. Denney, one of more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF. “The court has done the right thing in ensuring that this church has access to the community rooms on the same basis as other community groups. When a government opens up its facilities for community groups to use, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the government cannot exclude anyone based solely on the religious content of their gatherings.”

Although the commission has allowed a wide variety of both religious and non-religious community groups to use the rooms, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Youth Haven Ranch, and other churches, the commission’s attorney explained in a letter last year that the commission was relying on its “long-established policy” that “no religious services may be held in its community buildings.” The letter firmly stated that “the Housing Commission is not going to allow His Healing Hands Church to use its community center for religious purposes.”

After the commission refused to alter its ban, the church filed His Healing Hands Church v. Lansing Housing Commission in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan and filed a motion that asked the court to halt the commission’s policy while the suit moves forward in court. The court granted that motion Monday.

“The Housing Commission denied the Church’s request to use its community rooms for religious meetings pursuant to its policy of excluding activities that have a religious purpose,” the court wrote in its opinion and order. “In doing so, the Housing Commission engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination and violated the Church’s First Amendment free speech rights.”

“This decision is consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and common sense,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “We hope the Housing Commission will permanently change its policies and make ongoing litigation unnecessary. A victory for the church in this case is a victory for everyone’s freedom of speech.”

 

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