In The Church

 

FEDERAL COURT GRANTS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION IN CHALLENGE TO LAW BANNING CHURCHES

Liberty Institute Applauds Federal Court's Ruling Protecting the Rights of Religious Ministries


BROWNSVILLE, TX, November 25, 2014Late yesterday, United States District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its Pastor Hamilton Musser, and Laguna Madre Christian Academy against the Town of Bayview, TX concerning the Town’s zoning ordinance, which banned the church and religious school from operating on their own property. The favorable ruling prohibits enforcement of the unlawful ordinance against the church, and allows the church and its affiliated school to begin the permitting process to use the property in their ministries. To view the court’s ruling online, follow this link: https://libertyinstitute.org/cornerstone#preliminaryinjunction

“We are very encouraged by the Court’s ruling,” said Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute General Counsel. “It is a victory for our clients and for the religious freedom of all Texans.  We are thankful that the court recognized that it is unlawful for the Town to interfere with the church’s use of its own property.”

For years, Cornerstone Church by the Bay had to rent space to hold services.  Recently, however, it was gifted property in Bayview and requested permission from the town to use the property as a church and school.  But in June 2014, after denying Cornerstone’s request, the Bayview Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to ban churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone’s property sits—despite allowing nonreligious institutions in that exact same area.

“We are thrilled that the court upheld our right to use our building as a church,” said Pastor Hamilton Musser.  “We look forward to working with the Town and are confident that the Town will approve the plans of our church school, so that we can continue to minister to the surrounding community and the children and families of Laguna Madre Christian Academy.”

“We are encouraged that our clients received justice,” said Prerak Shah, an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “This type of blatant discrimination against Cornerstone Church and other religious ministries by heavy-handed government is what led our Founders to enact the First Amendment in the first place.”

Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

 


Case Notes

Town of Bayview, Texas’ Blatant Targeting of a Church Sparks Protest


Updated: July 23, 2014

At Issue: Religious Discrimination in Local Zoning Laws
Case Status: Ongoing

Cornerstone Church by the Bay v. City of Bayview, TX

cornerstone church congregation members

The Big Picture

In June 2014, the town of Bayview, Texas moved to enforce a zoning ordinance that bans religious institutions from operating within the area in which Cornerstone Church by the Bay recently acquired property, despite allowing similar non-religious institutions to operate within the exact same zone. Bayview’s actions violate state and federal law, as well as the Constitutions of Texas and of the United States.

Why This Case Matters

Bayview’s zoning ordinance is an act of blatant religious discrimination because it directly targets Cornerstone Church simply because it is a church. The direct targeting of religious organizations must be immediately addressed in order to protect the longstanding tradition of religious freedom in America.

The Facts

  • Cornerstone Church by the Bay operates in conjunction with Laguna Madre Christian Academy, a religious school.
  • For years, Cornerstone Church and Laguna Madre Christian Academy rented out property in a nearby town.
  • Recently, Cornerstone Church acquired property in Bayview, Texas in which to house its church and the religious school.
  • In 2009, Bayview passed a zoning ordinance that bans churches within the zone where Cornerstone Church’s property is located.
  • In January 2014, Cornerstone Church submitted a request that Bayview amend its zoning ordinances to allow churches and schools in the zone.
  • In June 2014, the Bayview Board of Aldermen, denied Cornerstone Church’s request, unanimously voted to enforce a zoning ordinance that wholly bans churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone Church owns property.
  • This zoning ordinance still allows similar nonreligious institutions to operate in that exact same area.
  • Believing their rights had been violated, Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its pastor Hamilton Musser, and the Laguna Madre Christian Academy enlisted the help of retired Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, the law firm Colvin, Chaney, Saenz & Rodriguez, LLP, and Liberty Institute.
  • This all-star legal team filed a lawsuit in federal court on July 22 2014, against the Town of Bayview, TX, for enacting an illegal zoning ordinance prohibiting the church and religious school from operating on its own property.
  • The Complaint alleges that Bayview’s zoning ordinance violates:
    • The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
    • The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act
    • The Texas Constitution
    • The United States Constitution
  • In its Complaint, Cornerstone Church and Laguna Madre Christian Academy ask the court to declare the law illegal and prohibit Bayview from enforcing it.
  • On November 24, 2014, United States District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction. The favorable ruling prohibits enforcement of the unlawful ordinance against the church, and allows the church and its affiliated school to begin the permitting process to use the property in their ministries.

What You Can Do

We need your continued commitment to stand with us as we continue to fight this type of discrimination and persecution—something Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel Mike Berry says today is because of “a lack of appreciation for the valuable and cherished role that churches play in our communities.”

Please stand with us through prayer and your financial support today as we work to defend Cornerstone Church by the Bay.  And if you know of a church, synagogue, private faith-based school, or other religious organization that can take advantage of Liberty Institute’s free “Religious Liberty Audits” to protect themselves before legal attacks, then please encourage them to contact us by filling out a legal request form online or calling out main number at 972-941-4444

 


Case Files

Preliminary Injunction - Link

Complaint - Link

Exhibit A  - Link

Exhibit B - Link

Full Press release - Link

 

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