9th Circuit: City of Yuma violated federal law against treating churches unequally in zoning matters
What better time for another accolade* to the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) — a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith?
A church in Yuma, AZ, left paying the mortgage on a building the city would not allow it to occupy has won its legal battle on appeal and can now seek damages, including payment for the money it lost, thanks to the a lawsuit filed by ADF attorneys.
The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the city did not treat the church equally with similarly situated groups and businesses as required by federal law. The law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act 0f 2000 (RLUIPA), protects religious institutions from discrimination in land use disputes with local governments.
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Byron Babione argued the case of Centro Familiar Cristiano Buenos Nuevas Christian Church v. City of Yuma.
Read the opinion here.
The court wrote, “It is hard to see how an express exclusion of ‘religious organizations’ from uses permitted as of right by other ‘membership organizations’ could be other than ‘less than equal terms’ for religious organizations.”
The city of Yuma requires religious organizations to obtain a conditional use permit to operate even though businesses and other “membership organizations” can build “as of right,” meaning they do not need a special permit. The city refused the church’s 2007 request for a permit on the basis that the church would “blight” an arts and entertainment district in the city’s Old Town District.
The court noted that “many of the uses permitted as of right would have the same practical effect as a church of blighting a potential block of bars and nightclubs. An apartment building taking up the whole block may be developed as of right, and so may a post office or prison. Prisons have bars, but not the kind promoting ‘entertainment.’ Thus the ordinance before us expressly treats religious organizations on a less than equal basis.”