Published On: Tue, Jul 23rd, 2019

Florida church sues Sarasota County over $10K fees to start Christian school for at-risk kids

federal lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of a Sarasota County church and religious school has prompted the county to reverse course and approve the church’s use of its property to educate children in its religious school. The county had forced the church to go through a $10,000 special exemption process, not required of numerous secular assemblies or institutions, and then denied the church’s zoning request.

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In 2013, Englewood Church of the Nazarene, known locally as Crosspoint Church, started a Christian school to serve at-risk students by offering an individualized, faith-based education. More than three years after the school opened, Sarasota County demanded that the church obtain a “special exception” in order to continue operating the school in the church’s own building. After the church submitted its application—a time-consuming and uncertain process costing over $10,000—the Sarasota County Board of Commissioners refused to grant the exception and began fining the church $250 for each day it continued to educate children on its property.

“Crosspoint Church serves the community by providing a quality Christian education to children with learning disabilities and that come from underprivileged homes,” said ADF Legal Counsel Kyle McCutcheon. “We commend Sarasota County for changing course, approving Crosspoint’s zoning request, and reimbursing the church’s hefty application fee. The county already allows the church to host a secular charter school on its property and has now correctly determined that Crosspoint has an equal right to host a private Christian school that’s motivated by its convictions.”

In light of the settlement, Crosspoint on Monday voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit, Englewood Church of the Nazarene v. Sarasota County, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

“The government can’t discriminate against churches or schools simply because they are religious,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Sarasota County’s response to our lawsuit benefits the school’s students and their parents, who deserve continued access to the high-quality education they have already chosen. The county did the right thing in correcting its discriminatory practices and offering Crosspoint Church an equal playing field.”

A federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act prohibits the government from treating religious groups worse than secular groups in zoning matters. Passed by unanimous consent of both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the law prevents the government from engaging in such discrimination.

Mark Anderson, one of nearly 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for the church and school.

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