In Virginia, City Officials Block Church Outreach to Disabled Children
- By Alan Sears
- Posted May 31, 2011
- 10 Comments »
In Fredericksburg, Virginia, city officials have decided that their community is becoming “saturated” with facilities assisting disabled people – so much so, in fact, that they’ve decided that these efforts just have to stop somewhere.
So they’ve decided to stop them at Calvary Christian Church.
The pastor of Calvary Christian, Michael Hirsch, says he’s been sensing God’s leading for his congregation to reach out to disabled children in the area. So, the church – which already offers before- and after-school day care – applied for a permit to expand that ministry to include a day school program for mentally and emotionally disabled children. Each child who’s enrolled has been prescribed an Individual Education Plan that virtually ensures their successful development, provided they have the benefit of an attentive, private day school environment.
Members of the city’s Planning Commission held a public hearing, liked what they heard, and approved the plan and a special-use permit for the church’s facilities. But the city council overruled them and denied the permit, citing their concern for the safety of the non-disabled children in the church’s other daycare programs.
Surprised, church leaders pointed out that the disabled children would be on the campus at a completely different time than the other youngsters – their schedules wouldn’t overlap at all. The city council dismissed that explanation, though. They said that there was too great a “safety risk” to the daycare students by having the day school in the same building.
The city council’s actions violate the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prevents zoning officials from singling out churches for discriminatory treatment – a fact Alliance Defense Fund attorneys pointed out in the federal lawsuit they filed against the city on May 24.
“Churches shouldn’t be singled out for discrimination, especially when attempting to expand their ministries to safely serve the needs of the community – in this case, disabled children,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “No disabled students would even be on campus at the same time as other students, and the church has the approval of planning officials because it has met all zoning requirements to run such a facility. There’s no legitimate reason for a denial, so the city’s stated reasons only serve to feed old stereotypes about the disabled.”
Matthew Fender of Richmond, one of more than 2,000 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit. Please be in prayer for him and all the other ADF attorneys working to secure the freedom of churches nationwide to minister the love and truth of Jesus Christ to all the people in their communities.
Author: Alan Sears