Canaan Baptist Church | Cases | First Liberty

A Vision

Canaan Baptist is a small, predominantly African American Christian church that ministers to the Duncanville and South Dallas community. Central to the Church’s sincerely held religious beliefs is the conviction that Jesus Christ has called them to be a “city on a hill,” (Matthew 5:14), by spreading his love and Truth to the people in the community where they live, both in words and in acts of service.

In 2002, the Church acquired a property that would in time serve as a new base of its ministry, including the eventual construction of physical buildings, which would increase the Church’s ability to minister to the community. Because it is a small congregation, the Church anticipated that raising money for the buildings would take several years, and much prayer, patience, and sacrificial giving. It would also require overcoming many challenges including purchasing the property and getting the land rezoned for church use. Yet they persevered in faith—continued to pray, continued to wait, continued to give, continued to believe. Now here they are within eye-shot of seeing decades of sacrificial giving and prayer and belief come to fruition by breaking ground on a new permanent facility.

But just as the Israelites had to face the mighty walls of Jericho before entering the promised land, the Church must now overcome an attempt by the City to take the property they have owned and used for religious activities for 18 years. Despite having a multitude of other options for building an unspecified public facility, the City of Duncanville seeks to wield the full force of government against its own citizens in one of the most violent powers in its arsenal—the power of eminent domain. The City of Duncanville seeks to condemn Canaan Baptist’s property via eminent domain under the vague interest of building “a fire station, public safety facility and/or other related improvements, public utilities necessary and associated with public purposes[.]” The City has a fire station across the street from the Church property.

First Liberty Fights Back

In October 2020, First Liberty Institute and Winston & Strawn LLP filed a motion to dismiss the City of Duncanville’s condemnation petition seeking to seize Canaan Baptist Church’s property through eminent domain.

“Canaan Baptist Church believes that God gave the Church this property to fulfill its religious mission to minister to and serve the local community, said Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The City cannot interfere with the Church’s religious exercise by taking the Church’s property when the City has many other options. The Church is determined to fight the City and win.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 10.7.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

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(Members of Canaan Baptist Church participate in a clothing drive on property owned by the church.Photo credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.) 


Texas City Threatens to Take Property from Church
First Liberty Institute defending church from the City of Duncanville’s attempt to seize church property using eminent domain

Dallas, TX—Today, First Liberty Institute and Winston & Strawn LLP filed a motion to dismiss the City of Duncanville’s condemnation petition seeking to seize Canaan Baptist Church’s property through eminent domain.

You can read the motion here.

“Canaan Baptist Church believes that God gave the Church this property to fulfill its religious mission to minister to and serve the local community, said Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute.  “The City cannot interfere with the Church’s religious exercise by taking the Church’s property when the City has many other options.  The Church is determined to fight the City and win.”

Canaan Baptist is a small, Christian church founded in 1969 that ministers to the Duncanville and South Dallas community.  The Church owns property in Duncanville on which it will build a new facility.  Currently, the Church uses the property to serve the local community by holding, among other events, clothing drives, movie nights, and youth activity days.  On August 28, 2020, the City of Duncanville filed a Petition for Condemnation in Dallas County court against the church, pastored by Dr. Jarvis Baker.  The City is seeking to acquire the property to build “a fire station, public safety facility and/or other related improvements.”  The City has a fire station across the street from the Church’s property.

First Liberty’s motion argues that all government actions, including eminent domain proceedings, must comport with Texas laws protecting the free exercise of religion.   The motion states, “The Church’s acquisition of the Property, its investment in plans to construct a house of worship on the Property, its current use of the Property for religious activities, and its desire to expand its ministry to those within the community from a centrally-located and heavily trafficked location, are unequivocally motivated by its members’ sincerely held religious beliefs.”  It continues, “Here, the City’s seizure of the Property would meaningfully curtail Canaan Baptist’s free exercise of religion. If the Property were seized, Canaan Baptist’s ongoing ministry and other religious activities on its consecrated Property would immediately halt.”

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

 

 

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