Federal Court Rules against Markham, Protects Church’s Right to Worship

CHICAGO—yesterday a preliminary injunction order was granted by the Federal District Court of Illinois against the City of Markham, allowing the Original Bible Church to worship in its leased space at 3509 W. 159th Street. The order granted by Judge Manish S. Shah stated that the city, by imposing requirements on the church that are not required of a theater in the same district, treated the church on less than equal terms with nonreligious assembly. The court further held that “[t]he uncertainty over whether the city will allow the property to be used for a place of religious assembly has caused irreparable harm to the church.”

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Noel W. Sterett of the law firm of Mauck & Baker, LLC, indicates that the City violated the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal statute enacted in 2000. The federal law requires municipalities to treat religious assemblies on equal terms with non-religious assemblies like theaters; therefore it was unlawful for Markham to force the church to seek zoning approval from the City Council.

“We are just a small church wanting to find a home in Markham. The City put us through so much over the last year, but we’ve endured. We look forward to moving forward with the Court’s protection.” said Rev. Fields. The church filed suit in federal court in December 2016 against the City of Markham to protect the small congregation’s right to worship in its space after the City Council voted for the second time to deny them a zoning permit in October. After Reverend Fields first filed for a zoning permit in late 2015, the City put the church through seven separate hearings only to ultimately deny their applications. “Cities should welcome churches not push them around. Thankfully, little churches can seek the protection of the courts and federal law,” Sterett stated after the ruling.

The Original Bible Church is the second church to sue Markham for prohibiting their worship services. The first suit, still in the courts, was filed by the Church of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ after the City tried to shut its services down in 2013. Mauck & Baker is representing the church in that suit as well.

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