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 (one of the first times the Township Board had ever rejected the recommendation of the Planning Commission), preventing LCS from operating at the church and effectively preventing it from operating anywhere within Genoa Township. Weeks later, the Board justified the vote to deny the application, citing 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. This denial by the Township led to substantial damages, including the loss of enrollment, to LCS and is the basis for ongoing review by the courts.
In late 2017, the Township Board approved, subject to certain conditions, a new application by LCS for a special use permit. LCS hopes to meet all the necessary conditions set by the Township and receive final approval to move into the Brighton Church in time for the 2018-2019 school year.
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.
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 LCS’s free exercise of religion.
“This precedent is very dangerous,” Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute, says. “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.”
“Towns who use their zoning laws to keep religious schools and organizations out of their backyard violate federal law and the First Amendment,” Sasser added.
First Liberty and attorneys from Covington & Burling, LLP petitioned the Sixth Circuit for en banc review but were denied. On December 26, 2017, LCS asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision of the Sixth Circuit and the extensive damages caused to the school by the Township Board’s first rejection of the special use permit.
For Immediate Release: June 2, 2017
Contact: Abigail Doty, email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 469-440-7598 (office) or 469-237-9102 (cell).