Church Driven Underground in Georgia…
- By Alan Sears
- Posted Jun 26, 2012
- No Comments »
… and no, I don’t mean the former Soviet satellite nation, but the American state of Georgia.
If you ever had to read George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm back in high school days, you may remember the famous quote from that book: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
That seems to be how they read the law down in Rockdale County, Georgia, too, where the zoning laws apply equally to everybody, as long as everybody doesn’t include small local churches. No one else has to own at least three acres to conduct their business; no one else has to obtain special use permits; no one else is forbidden to locate in limited industrial districts. Sports centers, day care centers, libraries, performing arts centers, recreational clubs, and educational institutions – they all get a pass when it comes to these things. But not small churches…
Consider the case of New Generation Church. In February of 2011, its members asked for a gas meter to heat the building they were renting. County officials said no – meters were only allowed for groups that owned three acres or more. A still chilly month later, the church applied again, for another meter in another building. The county again said no.
Last month, the church asked permission to again rent a small facility it had used a year or two back. But, once again, the county said no – the church would have to buy or lease three acres, nothing less. So, now New Generation (a small, start-up church with limited finances) is meeting in the cramped basement of a local jewelry store, and wondering how long before the county requires them to find a basement three acres wide.
“Government officials should not use zoning restrictions to close down religious services of small, start-up churches,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Not only is it irresponsible to target small ministries dedicated to serving the community, it’s unconstitutional and violates federal law.”
Working with Atlanta attorney Craig Bertschi, one of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, our lawyers have filed a federal lawsuit against Rockdale County charging that its zoning code violates the church’s free exercise of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
“Under the city’s requirements, only non-religious groups and large, wealthy churches can find an adequate place to meet,” Stanley says. “This is exactly why federal law protects churches from arbitrary and subjective zoning decisions.” RLUIPA is one of those federal laws, designed to shield churches and religious groups from burdensome and discriminatory zoning law restrictions on their property use.”
Please be in prayer for our attorneys on this case, which has implications for zoning laws all over the country, and could potentially impact your church and many others.
Author: Alan Sears