All Welcome, Except New Churches

ALL WELCOME, EXCEPT NEW CHURCHES

City Enforces Illegal Zoning Regulations on Religious Institutions 

DOTHAN, AL—New Life in Jesus Ministry filed suit in federal court today against the city of Dothan to protect the small congregation’s right to worship in its building at 274 N. Foster Street. Dothan does not allow new religious groups to locate by right anywhere within the city limits. While secular assembly uses like clubs and lodges can locate by right in many districts, all new religious assemblies must go through the city’s discretionary “special exception” permitting process if they want to locate anywhere in Dothan. New Life’s property is located in the same district and  just 500 feet from another church, Harbor Church, but was denied a “special exception” permit on September 13, when the motion made to approve the application failed to receive a second vote.

A federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, prohibits municipalities from treating religious assemblies on less than equal terms with secular assemblies. New Life’s suit alleges that Dothan’s zoning regulations violate this law and its right to equal protection. Dothan also permits numerous other assembly uses at the property by right, including community centers and theaters.

“If a club or lodge can have meetings at the property to talk about their purposes, we should be free to have our meetings to talk about Jesus, who is our purpose,” said Reverend Aaron Barnes of New Life in Jesus Ministry.

“This is a very straightforward case but unfortunately not all that uncommon. Many zoning codes were never changed to comply with the federal law and to fix this sort of unequal treatment,” said New Life’s attorney Noel Sterett. “We hope the city will take note and immediately agree to let this church meet.”

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