Mississippi Town’s Discrimination Against Church Doesn’t Square With Law
Liberty Institute Files Appeal Asking Court to Grant an Injunction Prohibiting the City of Holly Springs from Excluding Churches from the Town Center
HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss., March 7, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today, Liberty Institute on behalf of Opulent Life Church and its pastor, Telsa DeBerry, filed an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It asks the court to reverse the District Court’s decision and to grant the Church a preliminary injunction to allow it to lease a building on the town square.
The appeal in the case Opulent Life Church; Telsa DeBerry v. City of Holly Springs, Mississippi argues that the zoning ordinance unfairly singles out churches–but not other businesses that want to exist in the town square. It requires only churches requesting building space to get permission from the Mayor and 60 percent of local property owners. This ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution and a federal law (RLUIPA) passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000, which prohibits cities from treating churches less favorably than businesses.
“The Church and its membership are currently suffering harm because the City will not let them move into their new and larger space to accommodate their growing congregation,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation. “The City of Holly Springs’ placing special burdens on churches is unfair and illegal and subjects them to unequal treatment.”
While seeking to accommodate the needs of its growing mission in 2011, Opulent Life Church leased property on the town square of Holly Springs and sought approval from the City’s Planning Commission for its comprehensive building plan. The City’s Planning Commissioner “tabled” the Church’s request and would not specify which provision(s) the Church failed to meet. Then, Pastor DeBerry requested a complete copy of the zoning ordinance from the Holly Springs Mayor, who initially refused to disclose a complete copy of the zoning ordinance claiming it is a controlled document.
In January, Liberty Institute filed the lawsuit and sought a preliminary injunction. The District Court denied the injunction, ruling that, because the Church didn’t meet its capacity of 20 to 25 people at its current facility, the Church and Pastor DeBerry are “not currently being deprived of the right to freely exercise their religion” and that the Church merely seeks “to use the rented building in anticipation that their membership will grow.”
“We are appealing so that the rights of Opulent Life Church are honored, and it can begin using its space to fulfill its mission of serving the people of Holly Springs,” said Ashley E. Johnson, an attorney with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, LLC, and lead counsel for the Church along with Liberty Institute.
To date, Opulent Life Church, which was founded to serve Holly Springs’ vibrant and growing community of faith, has not been granted permission to operate in the town square.
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America. Visit www.libertyinstitute.org for more information.
Liberty Institute’s attorneys are available to discuss laws protecting churches from unfair and unlawful treatment by city governments.
SOURCE Liberty Institute