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City of Yuma: Churches just don’t fit

City says worshipers aren’t welcome in Old Town District but nonreligious gatherings are; ADF and CAP attorneys represent church

PHOENIX — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund and the Center for Arizona Policy asked a federal court Wednesday to require the City of Yuma to stop discriminating against a Yuma church.  In July 2007, the city rejected the church’s application for a permit to use its property in the Old Town District for church services; however, the city has approved such permits for nonreligious groups that assemble in the district.

“Churches should not be singled out for discrimination by a city’s zoning restrictions,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Byron Babione.  “Prohibiting a church from occupying its own building simply because a city favors non-religious assemblies over religious assemblies is not allowed under the Constitution or federal law.”

The zoning code at issue allows membership groups and theaters to locate in the district while specifically excluding religious organizations.

After purchasing a building in Yuma’s Old Town District, Centro Familiar Cristiano Buenos Nuevas Christian Church was told by the Yuma Planning and Zoning Commission that it was rejecting the church’s application for a conditional use permit.  The reason the commission provided for declining the permit was that a church does not fit with the city’s “goals” for the district.

Commission members said that the church was inappropriate for the Old Town District because it would not generate tax revenue and would not attract patrons for the stores in the district, ignoring the fact that church congregants gathering for educational and worship events throughout the week will likely frequent stores in the area.

“The government cannot treat people with non-religious viewpoints more favorably than people with religious viewpoints,” said CAP General Counsel Peter Gentala.  “The actions of Yuma zoning officials violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal statute which protects churches from discriminatory zoning laws.  The city’s ‘you don’t fit’ attitude does not justify treating religious organizations differently than nonreligious groups.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.  Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.