Monday, June 04, 2007

Zoning Ordinance That Banned Churches Rescinded Following Lawsuit

Titusville, PA - Following a federal lawsuit by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Lighthouse Christian Center, the City Council of Titusville, Pennsylvania, has now voted to modify its zoning ordinance to eliminate a discriminatory zoning provision that prohibited any church from locating in a commercial district.
Until last summer, Lighthouse was located in a nearby town in a small building with no sewer or running water. The church outgrew the facility and then secured an opportunity to lease within Titusville's C-1 commercial zone. The Titusville zoning code did not allow churches, but permitted theaters, clubs, lodges, bars and amusements in its commercial districts. Lighthouse was forced outside the city of Titusville, where it rented a temporary building that lacks heat and insulation.
Following settlement of Liberty Counsel's lawsuit and the passage of this new ordinance, Lighthouse moved to a downtown facility where it can operate its outreach program, which will include a Christian bookstore, television ministry, outreach to teens, and church services.
Liberty Counsel sued the city on behalf of Lighthouse in July 2006, alleging that the city's "church-free" zoning ordinance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The city settled the lawsuit for violations of RLUIPA and the United States Constitution by agreeing to allow the church to locate downtown, amending its code and paying attorney's fees.
We are pleased that local governments are getting the message that churches are not second-class property owners. The First Amendment and federal law both provide that churches and houses of worship should receive equal, if not preferential, treatment to other similar zoning uses. Churches are not orphans to any zoning district.