Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Law that Booted Churches from Commercial Zones Gets the Boot

Washburn, WI - The City Council of Washburn, Wisconsin, voted to repeal its zoning ordinance, which violated the First Amendment and federal law, to eliminate discriminatory restrictions on churches. The ordinance previously prohibited any church from locating on commercial property, even though the code permitted other nonreligious public assemblies within the same commercial districts.
The change in Washburn was made as a result of Chequamegon Community Fellowship's attempt to purchase a commercial building earlier this year. Pastor David Johnson had to cut short negotiations to purchase property on which to build the church when he was informed by the city that churches were prohibited in the commercial district.
The week before a crucial meeting of the City Planning Commission, church officials contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance. After reviewing the ordinance, Liberty Counsel concluded that the city code violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. As a result, a presentation to the City Planning Commission was prepared that requested the illegal restriction not be applied. The Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council change the ordinance and allow churches within the commercial district. Now, the Council has formally passed the recommended amendment and removed the illegal zoning restriction.
Local governments may not establish 'church-free' zones. Historically, churches have been viewed as a benefit to society. Churches not only nourish the human soul, they also provide for many daily needs of the community. Local governments must allow churches to minister in every zoning district in order to reach the people.