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Background

Cornerstone Church and Laguna Madre Christian Academy have been operating for years, renting out property in a town in south Texas. But in May of 2013, Cornerstone Church acquired property in Bayview, Texas in which to house its church and its affiliated Christian school.

Bayview has a zoning ordinance that only permits single-family dwellings in the zone in which Cornerstone’s property sits. The zoning ordinance also allows exceptions for some types of buildings that are not single-family dwellings. In January 2014, Cornerstone Church submitted a request that Bayview amend its zoning ordinances to allow churches and schools in the zone. The request would allow both the church and academy to operate on their new property.

The Bayview Board of Alderman denied the request in June 2014, unanimously voting to enforce its ban on churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone Church owns property. This zoning ordinance still, however, allowed non-religious institutions to operate in that exact same area.

Cornerstone Church Enlists Help from First Liberty, Expert Legal Team

Believing their rights had been violated, Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its pastor Hamilton Musser, and the Laguna Madre Christian Academy enlisted the help of retired Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, the law firm Colvin, Chaney, Saenz & Rodriguez, LLP, and First Liberty Institute. The firms worked together to file a lawsuit in federal court on July 22, 2014, against the town of Bayview, Texas, for enacting an illegal zoning ordinance prohibiting the church and religious school from operating on its own property.

The complaint alleged that Bayview’s zoning ordinance violated the following:

  • The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
  • The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act
  • The Texas Constitution
  • The United States Constitution

In its complaint, Cornerstone Church and Laguna Madre Christian Academy asked the court to declare the ordinance illegal and prohibit Bayview from enforcing it.

Preliminary Injunction: First Step Toward Total Victory

On November 24, 2014, United States District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the unlawful ordinance against the church. The favorable ruling allowed the church and its affiliated school to begin the permitting process to use the property in their ministries.

“We are thrilled that the court upheld our right to use our building as a church,” said Pastor Hamilton Musser.  “We look forward to working with the Town and are confident that the Town will approve the plans of our church school, so that we can continue to minister to the surrounding community and the children and families of Laguna Madre Christian Academy.”

Final Resolution

In June 2017, almost three years after the lawsuit was initially filed, Bayview issued the church a special use permit for its property. The issuance of the permit and a settlement between the town and the church brought the legal battle over the church’s right to use its own property to a successful final resolution.

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release: November 25, 2015

Contact: Gregg Wooding, gwooding@libertyinstitute.org

Cell: 214.558.9455, Office: 972.941.4444

 

FEDERAL COURT GRANTS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION IN CHALLENGE TO LAW BANNING CHURCHES

Liberty Institute Applauds Federal Court’s Ruling Protecting the Rights of Religious Ministries


 BROWNSVILLE, TX, Nov. 25, 2014— Today, United States District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its Pastor Hamilton Musser, and Laguna Madre Christian Academy against the Town of Bayview, TX concerning the Town’s zoning ordinance, which banned the church and religious school from operating on their own property. The favorable ruling prohibits enforcement of the unlawful ordinance against the church, and allows the church and its affiliated school to begin the permitting process to use the property in their ministries.

“We are very encouraged by today’s ruling,” said Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute General Counsel. “It is a victory for our clients and for the religious freedom of all Texans. We are thankful that the court recognized that it is unlawful for the Town to interfere with the church’s use of its own property.”

For years, Cornerstone Church by the Bay had to rent space to hold services. Recently, however, it was gifted property in Bayview and requested permission from the town to use the property as a church and school. But in June 2014, after denying Cornerstone’s request, the Bayview Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to ban churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone’s property sits—despite allowing nonreligious institutions in that exact same area.

“We are thrilled that the court upheld our right to use our building as a church,” said Pastor Hamilton Musser. “We look forward to working with the Town and are confident that the Town will approve the plans of our church school, so that we can continue to minister to the surrounding community and the children and families of Laguna Madre Christian Academy.”

“We are encouraged that our clients received justice today,” said Prerak Shah, an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “This type of blatant discrimination against Cornerstone Church and other religious ministries by heavy-handed government is what led our Founders to enact the First Amendment in the first place.”

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About Liberty Institute

Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

To download this press release, please click here.


Press Releases

First Liberty Press Release – 07/22/2014