Pregnancy Center Sues City for Religious Discrimination

A team of attorneys representing Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center in North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Raleigh City Council’s decision to prohibit Hand of Hope from providing young women with free pregnancy education and support at its property abutting Preferred Women’s Health abortion clinic on Jones Franklin Road. Hand of Hope is a nonprofit, pro-life ministry which seeks to share the love of God and free pregnancy education with women facing the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy.

“Pregnant women in Raleigh should be allowed to choose the free help and support Hand of Hope offers and should not be limited to Raleigh’s Preferred Women’s abortion clinic where women are not fully informed.” said Hand of Hope’s Executive Director Tonya Baker Nelson.

Earlier this year, Hand of Hope went through the zoning process and obtained favorable votes from the Citizen Advisory Council and Planning Commission. From a land use perspective, the Planning Commission and City Zoning Staff unanimously found that Hand of Hope’s use was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and compatible with the surrounding area. In fact, the City’s official plan adopted in 2013 is to rezone Hand of Hope’s property just as Hand of Hope was asking. Nevertheless, the City Council ignored its own staff, the Planning Commission and Citizen Advisory Council and voted to deny Hand of Hope’s zoning request on July 5, 2016. Though the City’s plan is to eventually rezone the property, the City Council indicated that it would be “premature” to rezone it now.

The City Council and City Attorney further defended the decision by citing to their power and “wide discretion” to decide what is the best use for Hand of Hope’s property. Hand of Hope’s lawsuit however claims that the City’s power and discretion is limited by the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law which was passed in 2000 after Congress uncovered widespread discrimination against religious organizations in land use regulations across the country.

“The City Council is not above the law and did a poor job hiding their political power play. Thankfully, the federal law was put in place to prevent cities from hiding their political preferences behind broad discretionary regulations.” said Hand of Hope’s attorney Noel Sterett of Mauck & Baker, LLC in Chicago. “I hope we can all agree that our freedoms, property rights, and a woman’s right to be fully informed should not be subject to the political whims and discretion of a few city council members.”

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