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Supreme Court of the United States

Church Wants To Grow But City Says "No"

October 17, 2017

One would think that in America we have the freedom to practice our faith, the freedom to speak, and the freedom to associate with those with whom we want to associate.  Those freedoms are being challenged in Medina, Minnesota. 

Let me give you a little context.  About fifteen years ago, Woodridge Church purchased 20 acres of land and built a church.  Since then, it has added 8 acres.  So in a rural part of this Minneapolis, Minnesota suburb sits this church on 28 acres of land. 

The Lord blessed this Church, and it is now ministering to over 1,000 congregants.  Consequently, it outgrew its current structure.  It can no longer effectively and efficiently meet all of the needs of its members.  They are being crammed for Sunday school space.  Their youth ministries need more space.  They do not have the room to fellowship with one another.

But this is America.  Land of the free.  Surely, a church that has been meeting on its own land and in its own building for over fifteen years can expand its building a few more square feet to allow it to minister to its congregation.

In about April of 2008, the Church began meeting with city officials to begin the process of expanding its current facility.  These city officials worked with the Church, and its architects, as they devised plans to ensure that this expansion would meet city code.

But when the Church submitted its application to the city council for approval, the city decided it no longer wanted a growing church in that part of town.  The city issued a moratorium, stopping all church construction in the town for one year as it contemplated how it could limit this church’s growth.  Even though the moratorium supposedly applied to all churches, Woodridge was the only church in town that was pursuing a building project.  So it is clear that this moratorium targeted one church.

While the moratorium was in place, the city changed its code and created an odd new zoning district called “Rural Public/Semi Public” that includes only the Woodridge Church, one other church, and city hall.  Seeing this new district on the map immediately makes one think of the old gerry-mandered voting districts.

The City Planning Commission met to come up with new guidelines that would govern this new district.  They concluded that all buildings in this new zone could be no bigger than 45,000 square feet.  While this placed a limit on church growth, at least it would allow the Church to build on its property according to its submitted plans.

But not so fast.  The city, offering no rationale, rejected the City Planning Commission’s proposed guidelines and adopted a maximum square feet limit of 40,000 square feet.  This meant that the church would have to go back to the drawing board as its plans were all based on a 42,000 square feet church building.  Its application was now not in compliance with city code. 

 In America, we have certain freedoms.  The first one being the right to freely exercise your religion. City officials should not be targeting a church with the intent to limit its growth and ministry. Therefore, the Alliance Defense Fund has filed a federal lawsuit seeking a court order to stop this discriminatory treatment of the church.

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