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Michigan church gets reprieve from court

LANSING, Mich. — A federal court issued an order Feb. 1 that prevents the city of Lansing’s Housing Commission from barring a Michigan church from community meeting space while the church’s lawsuit against the commission moves forward.

The Lansing Housing Commission allows other groups, including other churches, to use community rooms at its public housing developments, but told His Healing Hands Church that it couldn’t meet in any of the rooms because the meetings are of a religious nature.

Alliance Defending Freedom, representing the church, said as a result the church, which primarily serves housing residents, had been forced to hold its meetings at outdoor locations nearby because of its inability to transport residents – many of whom are children – to another location.

Dr. Eleanore Kue, a medical doctor, is the pastor of the church. Dr. Kue also operates His Healing Medical Clinic, which provides important medical services to the poor in a medically underserved community of Lansing, Michigan. On Sundays she conducts religious meetings, including meetings serving the occupants of LHC’s public housing developments.

“The government isn’t being neutral on religion when it singles out a religious community group and treats it worse than everyone else,” said Timothy W. Denney, attorney with Rickard, Denney, Garno & Associates.

“The court has done the right thing in ensuring that this church has access to the community rooms on the same basis as other community groups. When a government opens up its facilities for community groups to use, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the government cannot exclude anyone based solely on the religious content of their gatherings,” said Denney.

A letter sent to the church in September by Steven Dunnings, the Commission’s attorney, stated that the Lansing Housing Commission has a “long-established policy” that “no religious services/programs may be held in its community buildings.” The letter stated “the Housing Commission is not going to allow His Healing Hands Church to use its community center for religious purposes.”

After the commission refused to alter its ban, the church filed a motion to ask the court to halt the commission’s policy while the suit moves forward in court. The court granted that motion Feb. 1.

“The Housing Commission denied the Church’s request to use its community rooms for religious meetings pursuant to its policy of excluding activities that have a religious purpose,” the court wrote in its opinion and order. “In doing so, the Housing Commission engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination and violated the Church’s First Amendment free speech rights.”

“This decision is consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and common sense,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “We hope the Housing Commission will permanently change its policies and make ongoing litigation unnecessary. A victory for the church in this case is a victory for everyone’s freedom of speech.”

— CNJ staff

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