The American Center for Law and Justice is warning a South Carolina city to lift its ban on new churches in its downtown district or end up in court.
Gaffney, South Carolina, Mayor Henry Jolly and the city council adopted a zoning ordinance that specifically excludes religious organizations from occupying commercial or store-front buildings in the townâ€™s downtown district if those sites previously were retail.
In a letter, ACLJ warned that the federal law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent prevent the city from discriminating against religious groups.
The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, for example, states: â€śNo government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.â€ť...
Thanks for the reminder from the US Constitution, but in this case Congress is not involved, so it is OK for the city to make whatever zoning code they want, in the name of 'public health, safety and welfare' which can include almost anything. You have to hire a zoning lawyer to explain it, though. I heard of a case where a large church bought a 5-acre residential property that had been owned by specialists in the import of "Federally controlled substances" then was owned by the US Marshals, then sold to the church. But the neighbors hired some expensive law firm to fight the zoning change from residential to church, and it took years, consumed much of the church's time and money. Today the site sits as vacant as it was before they bought it.
"Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."