Published On: Thu, Nov 27th, 2014

Florida church battles city over zoning, sues for religious discrimination

A Florida church represented by an Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney has prevailed in its lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville Beach after a trial that took place in September.

painting of pope destroyed by vandals Catholic ChurchThe city twice denied Church of Our Savior a property permit because city officials preferred that the church property be used for some other purpose, but the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida ruled Tuesday that federal law prevents the city from engaging in that type of discrimination.

“A city’s zoning restrictions shouldn’t target churches for discrimination. The court was right to find that federal law prohibits Jacksonville Beach from using its zoning code to block the church’s religious community services just because the city wants to have property used for other purposes,” said Daniel P. Dalton, of the Michigan firm Dalton & Tomich PLC. Dalton, one of nearly 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF, represents the church together with ADF-allied attorney Charles L. Stambaugh of the Jacksonville firm Stambaugh & Associates, P.A.

The church filed the lawsuit Church of Our Savior v. The City of Jacksonville Beach in October 2013, explaining that its freedoms have been violated under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits zoning discrimination on the basis of religion.

“RLUIPA has been held to be a constitutional exercise of Congress’s authority,” the court wrote in itsdecision. “Thus, if a ‘religious assembly or institution’ such as the Church proves its case, RLUIPA provides an ‘appropriate’ federal remedy. This is such a case.”

In March 2013, Church of Our Savior, formerly known as Resurrection Anglican Church, applied for a permit to build a church on property it purchased to accommodate its growing membership. Although the Department of Planning and Development verified that the church met all of the city’s mandated standards, the Planning Commission denied the permit, claiming “the church was not consistent with the character of the neighborhood.” The church submitted a second application in September 2013, but the commission denied it on the same grounds.

“Church of Our Savior can finally build its church and fulfill its mission to serve its community,” said ADF Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue. “We hope other cities considering similar zoning restrictions will take note of this decision and ensure that their codes fully comport with federal law.”

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