Many churches across the country feel called to serve the surrounding community. At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church in Monroe, North Carolina is no different.
What is different is how the government in Monroe has tried to block the church from following this calling through local zoning laws.
This week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an initiative that zeroes in on cases like this to help protect religious freedom for places of worship.
In January 2018, At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church was looking for a new space and found a building they were hoping to lease. When the church leaders asked whether they could use the building for religious purposes, the owner informed the church that it wouldn’t be a problem. Another church had recently used the building for the same purposes. Plus, a religious nonprofit was already located in the building.
The church leased the building and quickly completed renovations. After worshipping in a funeral home for several months, the church was excited to begin meeting in its new space.
But when the church asked the city if it could begin meeting in the building, city officials responded with a clear “no.”
Like our client Redemption Community Church in Laurel, Maryland, which was threatened with a daily fine of $250 for holding worship services in its building, At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church was barred from worshiping in its building because of the city’s zoning code. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) now represents both churches in litigation against their respective cities.
This is exactly why ADF launched the Church Alliance in 2017 – to help churches who are facing legal challenges to their religious freedom all over the country.
The entry of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in this area of law through its newly-announced initiative validates the need for the Church Alliance.
The DOJ announced its new “Place to Worship Initiative” on June 12. This initiative will focus on “protecting the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities – as provided by the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).”
That the federal government considered it necessary to launch an entire initiative to help with the legal issues churches face at a local level is not to be taken lightly. The legal culture continues to test the limits of religious freedom in America. And challenges to the rights of people to freely live out their faith will not stop.
Notably, church autonomy is being questioned in issues of employment and facility use, and some churches are under continual pressure concerning their biblical views on marriage. Even the ministerial housing allowance is being challenged at the federal level.
The ADF Church Alliance is an affordable membership program for churches to help to ensure that no church is left without a defense when legal issues like these arrive at their doorsteps. Visit the Church Alliance website to learn more about how we are preparing, advising, and even litigating on behalf of churches as legal threats to religious freedom continue to increase.
Imagine if you had escaped government oppression in search of freedom and safety for your family in a new country—only to be greeted yet again with the government treading on Constitutional rights.
As pandemic restrictions have begun to ease over the last few months, churches and religious organizations have started to ask: If this happens again, how can we ensure that religious freedom is protected?