Settlement ensures rights of Michigan church will be respected
MUSKEGON, Mich. — A Michigan church has reached a favorable settlement in a lawsuit filed by an Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney against the city of Muskegon. The city planning commission had unlawfully prohibited the church from using a vacant car dealership as a house of worship but has now agreed to allow the congregation to use the building.
“Churches should not be singled out for discrimination by a city’s zoning restrictions or desire for tax dollars, and the city of Muskegon should be commended for understanding this,” said ADF-allied attorney Daniel Dalton, who represented Celebration Community Church. “Other cities should follow Muskegon’s lead in recognizing the rights of churches to worship on their legitimately chosen property.”
Immediately after the church filed suit in late March, the city asked to settle the case with the church, and both parties were directed into mediation. The city council approved the settlement on June 24, with the city agreeing to allow the church to use the contested property for religious purposes as the congregation originally desired.
In the suit, Dalton argued that the city was violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that prohibits unequal treatment of religious uses and commercial uses in zoning regulations. The city planning commission’s initial refusal to allow the use in this case was based on its argument that the church’s religious use of the property would result in a loss of tax base and that the property was too close to bars that have been in existence in the area for several years.
“RLIUPA levels the playing field for religious organizations and prevents zoning officials from engaging in unlawful discrimination,” Dalton added. “Now, the church can freely worship at the location it has legitimately selected.”
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.