This just in from the Liberty Legal Institute: Today, 'round 1:45 p.m., Kelly Shackelford's legal eagles will swoop down on a barren-looking section of Duncanville's Main Street to announce that it's taking legal action against the city "for discriminating against [a] Hispanic church." The church apparently has been going through the specific use permit process for a while, as evidenced by this Duncanville city council agenda from last month. And the headline of LLI's media release this morning says it all: "Press Conference Today: City Tells Hispanic Church You Can’t Worship Here." Which, more or less, is The Cherry Pit's problem with Duncanville, no? --Robert Wilonsky
Update: The Liberty Legal Institute has sent a media release with the details of its legal action against Duncanville. The takeaway: "The City is using zoning laws to discriminate against Pastor Robert Ramoz's Templo Bautista Nueva Jerusalen and deny the congregation's religious freedom to gather and hold services." After the jump.
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Duncanville, TX- A Hispanic Church is sending a demand letter today to the City of Duncanville for barring them from worship in their newly-purchased building. The City is using zoning laws to discriminate against Pastor Robert Ramoz's Templo Bautista Nueva Jerusalen and deny the congregation's religious freedom to gather and hold services.
"This is an obvious and flagrant violation of federal law. Congress overwhelmingly passed RLUIPA to provide churches such as Templo Bautista protection against such oppressive discrimination," said Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for Liberty Legal Institute, the religious freedoms group representing Templo Bautista. RLUIPA stands for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in 2000.
The City's denial began after Ana Candido, Templo Bautista administrator, went to the Duncanville city offices to have the utilities turned on at their newly-purchased building. When the city officials told Mrs. Candido that the church would need a special use permit, she and the church proceeded to approach the City Planning and Zoning Committee. Following protocol, Templo Bautista requested a special use permit from the Committee, complied with all requirements, paid all the fees and finally was given a hearing.
Although the City Planning and Zoning Committee accepted Templo Bautista's proposal and recommended granting the special use permit, and a majority of City Council members voted in favor of granting the permit, the 7-5 Council vote fell one yea short of the supermajority required for the proposal to pass. This supermajority rule applied only because Ms. Nance, a woman owning nearly 20% of the land around the church, opposed having the church in the neighborhood.
"This is very unfair. We have complied with every requirement from the city of Duncanville, we received the Planning and Zoning recommendation to approve the re-zoning, we received the majority vote from the City Council, and still one single citizen who opposes the church is keeping us from worshipping in our own building," said Mrs. Candido.
After the City Council denial, Templo Bautista contacted Liberty Legal Institute, the religious freedoms organization now representing the church. The demand letter sent today on behalf of Templo Bautista insists that the City of Duncanville allow Templo Bautista to worship in their new building.
"It is frightening that one person who does not like a church has the power to prevent that church from worshipping in its own building. Such a heckler's veto is plainly unconstitutional," said Sasser.