For nine years, LCS operated its school in the Village of Pinckney, Michigan. In 2014, the school sought a new, larger location more centrally located to their students. After evaluating and rejecting several possible locations, they found only one viable alternative. LCS entered into an agreement with Brighton Church of the Nazarene to lease one of its buildings to house the school. In March 2015, Brighton Church, on behalf of LCS, submitted an application to amend its existing special use land permit to allow the school to use the church’s building as a religious school.
The Township hired several consultants who concluded that the application should be approved. The Township’s Planning Commission and Community Development Director also recommended that the Board approve the application. Several residents of Genoa Township also spoke in favor of the school’s application before the town’s Board.
But, on July 20, 2015, the Township Board denied the application without explanation, preventing LCS from operating at the church or anywhere within Genoa Township. A few weeks later, the Board explained the denial was due to concerns the school would overburden the public infrastructure and would not promote “harmonious and organized development consistent with adjacent land uses,” despite the opposite conclusions of consultants, the planning commission, the community development director, and town residents.
On November 4, 2016, First Liberty Institute and attorneys from Covington & Burling, LLP filed a brief on behalf of Livingston Christian Schools defending the school’s right to freely exercise its religious mission in Genoa Township.
“The government is refusing to allow a Christian school to move into a building on church property or, for that matter, anywhere else in town. That’s wrong,” Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute, says. “Federal law expressly prohibits the government using zoning laws to keep religious institutions out of their town.”
“This case will determine whether cities across America can ban Christian schools from their city limits. We hope the court will protect the rights of religious institutions to exist in American cities,” Sasser added.
On April 26, 2017, attorneys with First Liberty presented oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. But on June 2, 2017, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit upheld the Township’s denial of the permit and found that the Township’s actions did not “constitute a substantial burden” on the LCS’s free exercise of religion. Further developments in the case are forthcoming.
For Immediate Release: June 2, 2017
Contact: Abigail Doty, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cell: 469-237-9102, Direct: 469-440-7598
Three-Judge Panel Says No “Substantial Burden” to Ban Christian School from Michigan Township
Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Reject Christian school’s appeal
June 2, 2017—A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit concluded Friday that a Michigan Township can forbid religious schools, specifically First Liberty Institute’s client Livingston Christian School, from moving into its city. A copy of the opinion is available here.
“This precedent is very dangerous. It states that it is not a burden on religious exercise for a city to ban religious schools, churches, synagogues or mosques from moving into town. In fact, if a city wanted to ban a specific synagogue or mosque from moving into its city limits, the court held such a ban would not be a substantial burden on religious exercise. This is shocking and cannot be allowed to stand,” says Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel of First Liberty. “Towns who use their zoning laws to keep religious schools and organizations out of their backyard violate federal law and the First Amendment.”
Livingston Christian School first brought a lawsuit in a federal court in Michigan in an effort to protect its right to exist as a ministry in Genoa Township. They sued the Township under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), arguing that the Township’s actions substantially burdened the school’s ability to operate as a religious ministry. After arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in April of 2017, the three judges of the Sixth Circuit concluded that the Township’s ban did not present a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion of Livingston Christian School.
To read more about First Liberty’s clients, go to FirstLiberty.org.
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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Abigail Doty at email@example.com or by calling 469-440-7598 (office) or 469-237-9102 (cell).