WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit against the city of Port St. Lucie Wednesday on behalf of Palm Beach Gardens Baptist Church, which has been prohibited from leasing property in a shopping center to hold worship services.
“Churches shouldn’t be singled out for discrimination by a city’s zoning restrictions. The U.S. Constitution prohibits government officials from prohibiting religious uses of property when it allows similar non-religious uses of that same property,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “It just doesn’t make sense… the city allows private clubs and lodges to meet in the shopping center, but not churches.”
In December, Port St. Lucie wouldn’t even allow the Church to apply for an occupancy permit so it could lease property at Southport Shopping Center, because the zoning code doesn’t allow churches there. Currently, only two city districts allow churches as a matter of right, whereas cultural and civic facilities are allowed in nine districts. Two churches already meet in the shopping center, but new ones are not allowed, and the City is trying to force those churches to move out.
ADF attorneys contend that such discrimination is not only a violation of the church’s rights protected by the U.S. Constitution, but that the city is also violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which prevents zoning officials from singling out churches for discriminatory treatment. Consequently, ADF attorneys are asking the federal court to overturn the provisions in the city’s zoning code so that they do not discriminate against churches.
A motion for preliminary injunction was also filed against the city by ADF attorneys on behalf of PBGBC to stop zoning officials from keeping the church out of the shopping center while the lawsuit moves forward.
The suit Palm Beach Gardens Baptist Church v. City of Port St. Lucie was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TARE’-ee-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.