The city of Monroe, North Carolina recently enacted an unconstitutional zoning code that bars a church from holding worship services in its newly rented and renovated premises.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Monday on behalf of the church against the city.
The new regulations prohibits At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church from hosting worship services, even though another church had occupied space in the same building in the past, and the new code permits libraries, museums, and other nonprofit use of the same space.
“The government can’t discriminate against churches simply because they are religious,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church is being told they are unwelcome—in the same part of the community where city officials would allow a library, art gallery, or museum. Zoning laws like Monroe’s are unconstitutional and violate federal law.”
When the church’s leadership visited 1617 W. Roosevelt Blvd., they expressed a desire to host worship services in the building. The property owner informed them that another church had occupied space in the same building in the recent past. In January 2018, the church entered into an agreement to rent the 1,500-square-foot property and proceeded to renovate it.
After completing the renovations, the church sought a certificate of occupancy, but based on the new zoning code, the city planner informed the church that churches were no longer a permitted use in the sub-district, and no special use exemption process is permitted.
Although the sub-district allows uses for “education, training, or resources of a public, nonprofit, or charitable nature,” the zoning code still excludes churches. As the ADF complaint notes, discrimination targeting churches in this manner is unconstitutional and violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination against churches in zoning decisions.
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church v. City of Monroe, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Robert Potter, one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for the church.
— CNJ staff report