Big Brother is alive and well in Laurel, Maryland, where the government is standing in the way of a local church’s efforts to share the Gospel with those around them.
Redemption Community Church has a heart for reaching out to the underprivileged and homeless in the community. In order to follow this calling, they sold their property outside of the city and bought property in downtown Laurel.
Their plan was to operate a non-profit coffee shop in order to connect with the surrounding community during the week and host a church service on Sundays. The church also planned to donate the proceeds from the coffee shop to other local non-profits that share its goal of serving the community.
Shortly after the church purchased a building downtown, however, the city changed its zoning laws to exclude non-profits, making the property useless for the church’s intended plans. A few weeks later, the city changed its laws again, requiring churches that were on less than one-acre lots (nearly every church in the area) to apply for a “special exception” under the law – an expensive and time-consuming process that does not even guarantee the church will be granted the exception at the end of it all.
This law is unconstitutional, singling out religious groups for discrimination.
Despite this, Redemption Community Church still adapted its plan to comply with the law. The church decided to open a for-profit coffee shop instead, serving customers from Monday to Saturday and worshipping on Sunday when the coffee shop was closed.
But the city made it very clear that they were keeping an eye on the church, Big-Brother style. “There are eyes everywhere, and you are always being watched,” the city planner told a church representative.
Soon after moving forward with this new plan, the city sent the church a letter telling them to stop holding worship services in their building. If it didn’t stop, the church would be subject to a daily fine of $250.
That was the last straw for the church – which had found its efforts to serve the community blocked at every turn. So Redemption Community Church reached out to the attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
As an ADF Church Alliance member, Redemption Community Church can focus on its calling to share the Gospel and know that we have their back. ADF filed a lawsuit on its behalf, and a district court heard oral arguments in the case this week.
This case is a great example of why ADF created the Church Alliance membership program: to prepare, advise, and even litigate on behalf of churches as the legal threats to religious freedom continue to increase.
With our help, Redemption Community Church can continue to focus on their calling to share the Gospel with those in the surrounding community – while we can focus on protecting their religious freedom and keeping Big Brother in check.
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will outline how some key courtroom victories help protect freedom in five critical areas.
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