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“NOT IN MY BACKYARD!” – Have Localities Become Too Offended by Houses of Worship?

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October 10, 2014

NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Backyard,” which is the attitude attributed to local residents or business owners who band together to prevent any objectionable activity taking place near their home or neighborhood. These days, a NIMBY movement can start in response to issues much tamer than an “ugly” building, oil drilling, or a nuclear waste dump.  Today, regrettably, the “objectionable” targets even include churches and synagogues.

ARE TORAH STUDIES A MENACE TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD? 

For over three years, Congregation Toras Chaim—a small Jewish community in Dallas, Texas, focused on the Ohr HaTorah Shul outlook on spiritual life—has met in members’ homes each week to pray and learn about their faith. The community must gather within walking distance of their homes, because their faith dictates that they refrain from driving on the Sabbath.

One of the only synagogues in the area with its particular focus, Toras Chaim became the victim of a lawsuit, filed last year by members of the neighborhood homeowners association. The small congregation has been careful to be a good neighbor to the community, but a few disgruntled community members continue to push forward a lawsuit against Rabbi Yaakov Rich and his congregation.

The NIMBY syndrome is often exhibited for developments that pose negative effects on those who live or operate businesses close to the location picked for the project. NIMBY outcries are usually that unwelcome projects would lower area property values, cause safety hazards, increase traffic and pollution, and increase crime in their neighborhoods. But which of these would Congregation Toras Chaim cause?

The answer, of course, is none. Incredibly, the plaintiffs’ evidence in the case against the Congregation Toras Chaim included concerns that a mother pushed a stroller across the street and a blind person walks to the synagogue! Liberty Institute has stood alongside Rabbi Yaakov Rich since December of 2013, and we continue to fight a legal battle on behalf of the congregation. In April of 2014, Liberty Institute successfully stopped an injunction that would require the congregation to cease meeting until the lawsuit was resolved, but the fight is far from over.

SAYING ‘NOT IN MY BACKYARD’ TO A CHURCH?

NIMBY protests happen all over the world, from big cities to small towns. But what happens when a town government tells a local church to take a hike? Though it might sound ludicrous, this exact scenario occurred earlier this year when the town of Bayview Texas denied Cornerstone Church by the Bay a building permit to make improvements to property the church already owns—all because it’s a church.

That’s right, because it’s a church.  Other non-religious institutions, such as golf courses, were granted the right to operate within the zone in question, but the Bayview Board of Aldermen made their ‘Not in My Backyard’ stance known to Cornerstone, and passed a zoning ordinance that specifically prohibits religious organizations within the area.

Cornerstone Church already owns the land and building in question, but because of this new illegal zoning regulation, they are not allowed to make the necessary repairs and improvements to use the building as a church and school. When a church is refused the right to build a structure for the simple reason of being a church, it begs the question: how far can a local government go to declare NIMBY against our constitutionally protected religious liberty?

Not another inch, if Liberty Institute has anything to say about it. Along with a team of top-notch legal experts including our volunteer attorney, retired Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez, Liberty Institute has mounted a defense for Cornerstone Church, and filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Town of Bayview for violating the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, The Texas Constitution, and the United States Constitution. The court has yet to issue a ruling on this case.

A HOTBED OF NIMBY HOSTILITY TOWARD RELIGION?

Who would have thought that a growing congregation in Holly Springs, Mississippi, would face discriminatory red tape when they tried to relocate to a larger worship space? Certainly not Pastor Telsa DeBerry of Opulent Life Church.

But face it he did. The city of Holly Springs told DeBerry that the church had to obtain the approval of 60 percent of local property owners and the town’s mayor before their expansion would be permitted. Such bureaucratic hurdles did not exist for businesses and non-religious groups in the city—only churches like Opulent Life Church. How can the town of Holly Springs get away with this kind of religious discrimination?

They can’t. And they did not. Liberty Institute stepped in to defend Pastor DeBerry and his congregation, and after securing a landmark victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which declared the zoning ordinance in violation of federal law, Liberty Institute reached a settlement with the town, allowing Opulent Life Church to permanently relocate to the downtown area.  That hard-won court victory protects literally thousands of churches.

TOGETHER, WE’RE STRONGER THAN NIMBY

NIMBYs are powerful and effective. But the U.S. Constitution and the American people are stronger. With the help of concerned friends like you, Liberty Institute will continue to stand and defend the religious liberties guaranteed to each of us by our Founding Fathers.

Through your financial and prayer support, you’re helping to maintain our unique strategy of:

  1. Top-ranked staff attorneys who coordinate and mobilize a national force of top litigators from 25 of the world’s 50 largest law firms.
  2. These volunteer attorneys give pro bono (free) legal defense of religious liberty.
  3. And this has resulted in a more than 90% win rate, yielding Liberty Institute legal victories which helped defend and restore religious freedom for clients in our nation’s schools, in churches, in the military, and throughout the public arena nationwide.     

So thank you for standing with Liberty Institute in defending the freedom of groups including Congregation Toras Chaim, Cornerstone Church by Bay, and Opulent Life Church.  Your gift today will help protect more of them, and establish more precedents to keep houses of worship from being shoved out or the “restricted zones” of society.  



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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.

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