Wednesday, December 06, 2006

PA Church No Longer Left Out In the Cold

Erie, PA – Liberty Counsel has now settled a lawsuit on behalf of Lighthouse Christian Center (Lighthouse) against the city of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The settlement allows Lighthouse to move to a downtown facility where it can operate its outreach program, which is expected to include a Christian bookstore, television ministry, outreach to teens, and church services. Liberty Counsel sued the city on behalf of Lighthouse in July, 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).After Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit and following an emergency hearing, the city agreed to settle the case. The city agreed that Lighthouse can locate in the commercial space that it had previously been refused permission to occupy. Additionally, the city agreed to amend its zoning code to remove the distinction between secular and religious assemblies. The city also agreed to allow all public assemblies in the city’s commercial areas and will pay attorney’s fees and costs to Liberty Counsel.Until this past 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 local zoning code did not allow churches, but permitted theaters, clubs, lodges, bars and amusements in its commercial areas. Lighthouse was forced outside the city of Titusville, where they rented a temporary building that lacks heat and insulation. The settlement allows Lighthouse to move to more suitable facilities, where the church can grow and operate its many outreaches before more severe winter conditions set in.We are pleased that the city of Titusville has agreed that Lighthouse Christian Center should be treated like other places of assembly in the downtown area. It is unfortunate that a church had to go to federal court to be treated like other groups in the city. Common sense dictates that if theaters or clubs are permitted in a zoning district, then churches cannot be banned.