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Published On: Thu, Jun 4th, 2015

City of Chicago loses another battle to shutdown ministry in former YMCA building

For the second time, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has ruled against the city of Chicago and in favor of an inner-city ministry.

The nearly 10-year old case started in the fall of 2005 when the city prevented World Outreach Conference Center from occupying a former YMCA building.

Though World Outreach intended to use the building for similar services as the YMCA, the city rezoned the building as a manufacturing zone and then filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing World Outreach from carrying on charitable and religious activities there.

In its opinion issued Monday, the 7th Circuit described the city’s suit as “frivolous” and its actions as “possibly malevolent.”

The case will now go to a jury.

“Using a city’s zoning restrictions to shut down ongoing religious and community services just because the city wants to use a building for other purposes is clearly illegal,” said Mauck & Baker partner John Mauck, one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom and lead counsel for World Outreach.

“The 7th Circuit’s opinion will allow a jury to see how a city that claims to care for victims of gang violence and the homeless actually operates when these goals conflict with the corrupt practices of aldermen.”

“The court was right to recognize the city’s actions and arguments as ‘mysterious’ and ‘possibly malevolent,’” said Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco with ADF, which has provided funding for the case, World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

“The city has failed in its mission to stop a jury from taking a look at what this ministry has been through. We are pleased that they will now have the chance to do that.”

Shortly after World Outreach acquired the YMCA in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed living quarters in Chicago for as many as 10,000 Hurricane Katrina victims.

World Outreach volunteered its rooms, but the city “erroneously” refused to grant World Outreach the permits it needed. FEMA was forced to look elsewhere. The city did not provide World Outreach with permits until August 2007.

World Outreach, which had its first victory at the 7th Circuit in 2009, wants to keep the community center open to Chicago’s Roseland community and to make the 168 single-room occupancy units available for affordable housing.

The jury in federal district court will be asked to consider the role of Alderman Anthony Beale in preventing World Outreach’s ministries from using the building and if the city should be liable for damages.

As the 7th Circuit noted in its opinion, “Chicago aldermen are powerful figures in the city’s political system, and Alderman Beale may have pressured the City’s zoning department to prevent World Outreach from using the building as it intended even though the intended use would be virtually identical to that of its predecessor the YMCA, which had owned and operated the building for eighty years.”

“We praise God for this victory,” said World Outreach Director Pamela Blossom. “World Outreach will continue to thrive and provide a safe place for youth to stay away from gang activity in a Christ-centered community.”

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