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Mich. town allows church to occupy property in wake of lawsuit

City quickly agrees to court order that allows church represented by ADF-allied attorney to use building for religious services
Published On: 10/18/2017

HAZEL PARK, Mich. — The city of Hazel Park has agreed to a court order, issued Friday, that prohibits the city from enforcing a zoning ordinance that bans religious groups--but not non-religious groups--from using buildings on commercial property for religious assembly. For nearly a year, Salvation Temple Church, represented by an Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney, was not allowed to occupy a building that it had contracted to purchase, yet non-religious organizations faced no such restriction.

 

“Churches shouldn’t be singled out for discrimination and kept from practicing their faith in their own building by a city’s zoning restrictions,” said ADF-allied attorney Daniel Dalton of Dalton, Tomich, & Pensler, PLC, in Bloomfield Hills. “City officials cannot restrict assemblies to purely non-religious activities. They intentionally changed their policy a few years ago to eliminate religious use so that they could increase their tax revenue, and that’s simply not legal.  The city has finally done the right thing in agreeing to respect this church’s rights, protected by both the Constitution and federal law.”

In December 2009, Salvation Temple Church signed an agreement to purchase a vacant banquet hall as a meeting place for its 125 to 150 congregants; however, a 2005 amendment to a zoning ordinance excluded religious use of property in commercial and industrial zones. The amendment meant the church could only purchase property in a residential district. The city, however, knew that it had no space available in its residential districts. The church applied to the Hazel Park Zoning Board of Appeals for an exception, and the board denied the variance in March of this year.

Dalton, one of more than 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance, filed suit with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of the church in October, arguing that Hazel Park violated the church’s constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech, assembly, equal protection, and exercise of religion. He also argued in the case, Salvation Temple Church v. City of Hazel Park, that the city violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prevents zoning officials from singling out churches for discriminatory treatment. Along with filing suit, Dalton filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to invalidate the offending ordinance while the case moved forward, but a month later, the city agreed to settle the case.

“In a city where restaurants, offices, colleges, nail salons, health clubs, and fraternal groups are included on a list of permitted uses in the local business district, there is no legally legitimate reason why city officials deleted places of worship from the list five years ago,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “The ordinance’s aim was clearly to keep tax-paying entities on commercial parcels. We hope other cities will follow Hazel Park’s lead and remove these types of unconstitutional prohibitions from zoning ordinances across the nation.”

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  • Pronunciation guide: Infranco (in-FRANK’-oh)

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.

 

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