On Monday, United States District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its pastor Hamilton Musser, and Laguna Madre Christian Academy against the Town of Bayview, Texas concerning the Town’s zoning ordinance, which bans the church and religious school from operating on their own property. The favorable ruling prohibits enforcement of the unlawful ordinance, allowing the church and school to use their property in their ministries.
“We are very encouraged by the Court’s ruling,” said Jeff Mateer, First Liberty Institute General Counsel. “It is a victory for our clients and for the religious freedom of all Texans. We are thankful that the court recognized that it is unlawful for the Town to interfere with the church’s use of its own property.”
Pastor Musser added: “We are thrilled that the court upheld our right to use our building as a church. We look forward to working with the Town and are confident that the Town will approve the plans of our church school, so that we can continue to minister to the surrounding community and the children and families of Laguna Madre Christian Academy.”
CHURCH BANNED FROM USING ITS OWN PROPERTY
In July 2014, First Liberty Institute, with our volunteer attorneys, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its pastor Hamilton Musser, and the Laguna Madre Christian Academy against the town of Bayview, Texas for enacting and enforcing an illegal zoning ordinance that bans churches and religious schools from operating in the area where Cornerstone owns property.
For years, Cornerstone Church by the Bay had to rent space to hold services. Recently, however, it acquired property in Bayview and requested permission from the town to use it as a church and school. But in June 2014, after denying Cornerstone’s request, the Bayview Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to ban churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone’s property sits—despite allowing nonreligious institutions in that exact same area.
Even worse, the only other zone in the town in which the church could operate has no properties that fit Cornerstone Church’s needs. This hostility truly put the church in crisis.
According to the complaint, “[A] motivating factor for retaining the building restrictions in Zone A [the zone where Cornerstone Church owns property] was to exclude Plaintiffs [Cornerstone Church] in particular from Zone A, due primarily to their religious nature.” In other words, the Town targeted Cornerstone because it’s a church!
A GROWING HOSTILITY TOWARD CHURCHES AND RELIGIOUS MINISTRIES
The lawsuit alleges that Bayview’s zoning ordinance violates both state and federal law. The illegal zoning ordinance defies the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA), the United States Constitution, and the Texas Constitution.
Cornerstone Church is not First Liberty Institute’s only client to face a “Not in My Backyard” attitude, whether from local hostility or discriminatory zoning ordinances. Other First Liberty Institute cases include:
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Churches and pastors are increasingly becoming targets of discrimination. Zoning ordinances are being used against them. Sermons are becoming tools of legal intimidation. But the law is still on their side.
First Liberty Institute is committed to defending the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, and other religious ministries from unlawful discrimination.
Please pray as we defend the religious freedom of Cornerstone Church, and please consider donating now to help us continue our efforts to preserve religious liberty in America.
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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.