First Liberty Institute defends First Presbyterian Church from City of Auburn’s discriminatory zoning enforcement
Government hostility to local houses of worship has reached epidemic levels—yet First Liberty Institute is fighting back to establish firm legal precedents that will bring the epidemic to an end.
Last month, First Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Andy Leja of Hiscock & Barclay LLP, filed a brief defending First Presbyterian Church of Auburn, New York, from a city citation banning the church from holding a summer glee camp on its property. A pillar of the community for more than 200 years, the church is the victim of a discriminatory zoning enforcement that endangers the church’s ability to carry out its religious mission.
In July 2014, the city of Auburn, New York issued a citation to the First Presbyterian Church accusing it of violating the city’s zoning ordinance by collecting a fee from campers attending the church’s summer glee camp—calling this fee “commercial use” of the church’s property in a residential zone. The city ordered the church to “immediately cease” operating the glee camp on its own property.
A TRADITION OF SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY
The church’s pastor, Rev. Eileen Winter, stated in her affidavit that First Presbyterian Church of Auburn has had a long history of supporting the arts in its community since the church’s founding in 1810 and that the church considers community service a part of its religious mission. As part of that outreach, for the past three years the church has operated a three-week summer music and theater camp for children and teens called “Glee Camp.”
Rev. Winter wrote that the Glee Camp has three purposes:
“We don’t know why the City chose to discriminate against the Glee Camp,”said Hiram Sasser, First Liberty Institute Director of Litigation. “As we win cases like this one, we will continue to set valuable precedent for churches across the country, and we look forward to this church once again offering the summer glee camp to the community it has faithfully served for two centuries.”
DEFENDING THE CHURCH FROM DISCRIMINATORY ENFORCEMENT
The brief submitted by First Liberty Institute and our volunteer attorney lists three arguments against the city’s discriminatory citation:
In her affidavit, Rev. Winter wrote, “I believe this [zoning enforcement] action is a misguided and discriminatory act on the City’s part that not only harms the Church’s ability to carry out its religious mission in the community, but also threatens a chilling effect upon other faith organizations similarly situated in residential areas throughout the City.”
Rev. Winter, along with First Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys, shared more about the City’s discriminatory zoning ordinance, and its harmful impact on First Presbyterian Church, in a recent appearance on FOX News’ Huckabee with Mike Huckabee this past Saturday, January 3, 2015.
PROTECTING THE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY OF HOUSES OF FAITH
First Liberty Institute is committed to protecting the rights of First Presbyterian Church of Auburn, NY to fulfill its religious mission “to serve God by serving its community.” In addition, we also represent other churches and houses of faith that have faced discrimination:
Thank you for joining with us through your prayer support and financial gifts to help continue defending and protecting the religious liberty rights of these and other houses of faith. Because you and other concerned Americans are standing with us, First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization solely dedicated to protecting religious freedom in America today.
About First Liberty Institute
First 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.FirstLiberty.org.