Mississippi Church Wins Big Victory in Federal Court of Appeals

September 28, 2012


Liberty Institute Vows to Continue Fight After U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Reverses Lower Court Decision To Deny Opulent Life Church a Preliminary Injunction Against City of Holly Springs Discriminatory Ordinance

HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss., Sept. 28, 2012 —Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Liberty Institute’s client, Opulent Life Church. The Federal Court of Appeals declared that the ordinance the City of Holly Springs enacted to prohibit a church from existing on the town square is a violation of federal law, and it reversed a lower court’s ruling, refusing to prohibit the enforcement of the discriminatory ordinance.

In addition, the Federal Court of Appeals ruled that a new ordinance—adopted by the City of Holly Springs on the evening before the Court heard the case in New Orleans, La.—is equally troubling. The appeals court wrote in its opinion that the City’s “stated purpose…could be read to suggest that the ‘heart of community life’ in Holly Springs is consistent with a variety of nonreligious civic uses, but not religious uses” and that such a purpose is “inherently discriminatory.” Now, the case returns to federal court in Oxford, Miss.

“We are thankful for this victory and that the Court of Appeals agrees that placing special burdens on churches is unfair and unconstitutional,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation, who serves as lead counsel for the Church along with Ashley E. Johnson, an attorney with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, LLC. “This case will set a valuable precedent for churches across the country. Religious freedom is an inalienable right that should not be granted or prohibited at the whim of a single government official.”

In January 2012, Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Opulent Life Church and its pastor, Telsa DeBerry, and sought a preliminary injunction, which the federal district court unfortunately denied. In March 2012, Liberty Institute filed an appeal, arguing that the city’s zoning ordinance unfairly singles out churches, and asking the court to reverse the lower court’s decision.

Sasser, added, “This victory moves the church one step closer to returning to its mission of serving and caring for the spiritual needs of the City of Holly Springs. I am hopeful that this will pave the way for other churches to enjoy fair treatment in the City of Holly Springs and throughout the nation.”

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 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

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