Texas Church Fights to Meet in its Own Building
Elijah Group, an Evangelical Christian Church, is fighting City Hall in Leon Valley, Texas. The city says it’s fine for the church to use the facilities for a day care and counseling center, but it cannot meet in the building for worship on the weekends because of zoning laws.
Lori Windham, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the city is ignoring the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) in order to make revenue from retail businesses.
“The City of Leon Valley near San Antonio used to allow churches to locate all over the city,” she said. “Then they went back and said, ‘We’re only going to allow churches in one of the 13 zones.’ My client came in. They bought a church building. It’s always been a church building. And the city said ‘Nope. Sorry. It can’t be used as a church building anymore. We want this to be a retail store.'”
Windham and The Becket Fund are suing, asking the court to rule on behalf of religious liberty.
“We’re asking the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to say that cities can’t do this,” she said, “that cities have to treat churches the same way they would treat other assemblies that do make them money.
“The implications for churches across the state are enormous,” she added. “Leon Valley wants to set a precedent saying that cities can treat churches worse than secular assemblies simply because churches don’t generate enough tax revenue.”