Published On: Sat, Aug 25th, 2018

North Carolina reverses zoning law to silence a Baptist Church, avoid lawsuit

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a North Carolina church voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit against the city of Monroe Thursday after officials voted Tuesday to amend recent additions to the city’s zoning code. Those additions had prohibited churches from locating in three out of four sub-districts within the city’s newly created Concord Avenue Overlay District. Now the code will permit churches to freely locate and operate throughout the overlay district.

Scale of Justice photo/DTR via wikimedia commons

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the suit on behalf of At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church after the city enacted an overlay to its zoning code that barred the congregation from holding worship services in its newly rented and renovated premises. The city’s ordinance prohibited the church from hosting worship services, even though another church had occupied space in the same building in the recent past, and libraries, museums, and other nonprofits were allowed to use the same space.

“The government can’t discriminate against churches simply because they are religious. The city has done the right thing in correcting the flaws in its zoning code so that all religious congregations will benefit,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “The city had told At the Cross that it was unwelcome—in the same part of the community where libraries, art galleries, and museums were allowed. That was unconstitutional and a violation of federal law, but the new changes fix that. The city of Monroe should be commended for its actions, which serve as a model for local governments across the country of how to properly treat churches in accordance with federal law.”

As the ADF lawsuit explained, singling out churches for unequal treatment is unconstitutional and violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination against churches in zoning decisions.

Robert Potter, one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel for the church in the lawsuit, At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church v. City of Monroe, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

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