City of Houston Tries to Steal Decades-Old Church—to Give the Land to a Business
August 7, 2015
Should the government be able to seize a church’s property and hand it over to some other business for raw economic gain and extra tax revenue? The very notion seems heartless and un-American. Yet that is exactly what the City of Houston—the country’s 4thlargest city—is attempting to do to two of its most historic and life-changing churches in what was once called “Blood Alley.”
Fortunately, with the help of religious liberty attorneys, these two churches are fighting back on behalf of the communities they serve, and in the name of laws protecting religious freedom and influence.
BULLDOZING A CHURCH THAT HELPED TAME “BLOOD ALLEY”
On August 3, 2015, Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston for threatening to take the property of two historic Houston churches. The City of Houston is threatening to bulldoze the historic Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and condemn the property of the Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center. The city’s actions violate Texas’ religious freedom law, including the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Houston’s Fifth Ward is known for its history of violence and crime. In 1979, Texas Monthly magazine called it “Texas’ toughest, proudest, baddest ghetto.” Into this area, which the locals referred to as “Blood Alley,” Bishop Roy Lee Kossie felt called by God to plant a church. In 1965, he founded the Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center on Lyons Avenue. A few years later, Pastor Quinton Smith was called to pastor the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in the same area.
Bishop Roy Lee Kossie says:
“When we moved in to this area, it was considered the highest crime rate area in the city of Houston. People shot first and asked questions later. But we loved these people. We loved this community. We knew this was exactly where we needed to be.”
After decades of serving in the community, the churches helped transform the Fifth Ward into a safer place. The Latter Day church used to be flanked by a nightclub and a honky tonk. Today, both establishments are gone, replaced by a church-run food pantry and youth ministry center.
Over the years, the church developed outreach programs to minister to drug addicts, alcoholics, and gang members—and their efforts are working.
Bishop Kossie loves to share how a young Black Panther came to the church, got saved, and was trusted to serve “with a badge.” He also notes that, since the founding of the church, violence in the Fifth Ward decreased, alcoholism declined, marriages have been saved, and children thrive. He attributes this to the blessing of God and to the faithfulness of the church leaders, who have reached out to the community for decades with love, patience, and faith.
Pastor Quinton Smith says his favorite thing about pastoring is how he gets to serve the children of the community by hosting vacation Bible schools and Christmas bicycle giveaways, along with counseling young couples.
“LEAVE US ALONE SO WE CAN KEEP HELPING THESE KIDS”
As downtown Houston expanded, the property values of Fifth Ward soared. The City of Houston began an aggressive urban development plan, seeking to bulldoze older establishments to make way for more profitable, taxable business. The City is now targeting the two churches.
The City of Houston pressured the pastors to sell the churches’ property, threatening to take the property through eminent domain if they refused. Bishop Kossie and Pastor Smith steadfastly refused to leave the community to which they were called.Now, the City of Houston is using their powers of eminent domain to take the property of the Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center and, if Pastor Smith will not sell his church, the City will have their lawyers take it and bulldoze the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church to the ground.
Pastor Quinton Smith, who has pastored the Christian Fellowship church for 20 years, says:
“We’ve been here for years. We’ve watched the children grow up. We’ve been a safe place for them when things are bad at home. If the city makes us leave the Fifth Ward, what will happen to the children? We just want the City to leave us alone so we can keep helping these kids.”
Bishop Kossie, who has served as a pastor in the Fifth Ward for over sixty years, says, “This is our home. This is where the Lord called us to serve and this is where we want to stay. We aren’t giving up without a fight.”
BULLY TACTICS VIOLATE LAW
Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston, announcing the action at a press conference in the Fifth Ward standing alongside leaders and members of the churches, many of whom voiced sadness, indignation, and resistance to the City’s actions.
Attorneys Hiram Sasser,Liberty Institute Deputy Chief Counsel, and Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys, asserted that the city is violating Texas’ religious freedom law, including the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They note that the churches have served as pillars in the Fifth Ward’s spiritual and social community for decades and that the City’s actions would force the churches out of the community they have served for over half a century.
Sasser stated, “These churches have served this community for decades. They’ve held the neighborhood together through a lot of hard times. It’s tragic that the City of Houston wants to take the churches’ property away and give it to someone else, just so they can make money. The government cannot take a church’s property and give it to some other business in violation of the law. These churches, their congregations, and this neighborhood are not for sale.”
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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.