Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mayor reneges on church agreement

An Illinois city is on its way back to federal court after backing out of the settlement of a zoning dispute involving alleged discrimination against a local church.The city of Carlinville, Illinois, had reached a settlement with the Carlinville Southern Baptist Church after city officials were sued for illegally using zoning ordinances to keep the church from moving into an abandoned Wal-Mart store. But Joseph Infranco, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), says the mayor unexpectedly vetoed the settlement. "What we think happened is that the mayor did not want the church to go ahead and purchase this former Wal-Mart because his concern was that the church, being a non-profit organization, would cause the property to go off the tax rolls. And, so, we think the mayor has, essentially, condoned discrimination,"Infranco explains.If that is the case, says the attorney, the city's actions violate the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA. "It's a very strong law for churches,"Infranco explains. "It says if a church is going to be treated differently, if it's going to receive disparate treatment from other organizations, that the government has to show it has what's called a 'compelling government interest' and that it's taken the 'least narrow means' of achieving that interest." And that, argues the ADF attorney, is going to be "very difficult" for the city to show in this case.Infranco says disputes like this usually arise from misinformation and misunderstanding the value of churches."Oftentimes you have municipalities that somehow conceive that churches just don't have value in the community because local officials are thinking strictly of the tax issue," he suggests. And the Carlinville matter "is so extraordinarily short-sighted that it's almost astonishing," Infranco adds.
As in the days of Noah...

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