What's at stake
- The constitutionality of zoning restrictions that limit the ability of churches to build new facilities and operate their ministries
- Government restrictions that target churches based upon their stances on important social issues
Saint Benedict Center—a small, traditional Catholic congregation that has operated a monastery, convent, house of worship, and religious school in Richmond since 1989—found its efforts to construct a new church and school building stifled after the Town of Richmond imposed more than 30 conditions upon SBC’s proposed construction plans. The planning board chairman, who drafted several of the conditions, had e-mailed other town officials about his disgust for the church’s religious teachings, stating that its stance on abortion, homosexual behavior, pornography, and divorce were “abhorrent.”
The church filed a lawsuit in June 2007 challenging the unconstitutional zoning restrictions imposed by the Town. A court ruled in favor of the church finding that the zoning restrictions made completion of construction impossible and constituted a substantial burden on the church’s religious exercise under RLUIPA. Thereafter, the town agreed to pay the church $1.15 million in monetary damages and attorneys’ fees, and the town’s board of selectmen agreed to a separate settlement that makes completion of the church and school building possible.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney Michael Tierney represented Saint Benedict Center in the defense of its constitutional rights.