In violation of the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the county had denied the church permission to build and worship on its six-acre parcel of land
Detroit—-July 18, 2022—Dalton & Tomich, a firm nationally known for protecting the legal rights of religious institutions under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), announced it has secured a final court order requiring Hinds County, Mississippi, to immediately issue the Church at Jackson a building permit and pay the agreed settlement amount of $145,000 to the church within 14 days. The Honorable Henry T. Wingate of the United States District Court of Mississippi entered the final order late on Friday, June 15.
In 2020, the church acquired a six-acre parcel of property located in an Agricultural District of Hinds County with the intention of using the property for religious assembly, prayer, and worship. After county officials found out about the church’s plans, the county told the church it needed to have the property rezoned to a special use district. The church then applied to have the property rezoned, only to have its application denied after multiple hearings and months of costly delay.
Under the Hinds County Zoning Ordinance, several nonreligious assembly uses, such as gymnasiums and arenas, are allowed to locate in the Agricultural District freely, while religious assembly uses such as churches, mosques and synagogues, are not allowed to locate there without obtaining special approval. The Church at Jackson filed suit to challenge these unequal terms under RLUIPA, which states that “[n]o government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.” 42 U.S.C. §2000cc(b)(1).
According to Dalton & Tomich attorney Noel Sterett, who served as lead counsel for the church along with local attorney Matthew Wilson, this case highlights the growing need for religious institutions to know their rights under RLUIPA.
“Every year, many religious groups across the country suffer adverse zoning decisions and do not realize that there is a federal law that gives them substantial rights. No church, mosque, or synagogue in this country should have to fight for the right to gather for worship on land where other non-religious assemblies are freely allowed,” Sterett said. “Religious groups need to be aware of the protections they have under federal law.”
The Church at Jackson plans to move forward with its building plans. Gabriel Olivier, a Deacon for the Church at Jackson said, “We took a stand and hope that our victory helps other churches receive equal treatment.”
Dalton & Tomich is known for its experience litigating RLUIPA cases across the country.
In 2021, the firm successfully represented Pass-a-grille Beach Community Church in a RLUIPA suit against St. Pete Beach, Florida. The city had fined the church for allowing the public to park for free in its private lot near the beach. Dalton & Tomich secured an injunction protecting the church’s right to extend biblically-based hospitality and keep its parking lot open to the public. Dalton & Tomich also secured a court order requiring the city to pay over $250,000 of the church’s attorney fees and costs. In 2020, the firm assisted City Walk-Urban Mission in expanding its transition home ministry in Wakulla County, Florida after the county unlawfully restricted the ability of the church to operate a religious transition home. Rather than fight the court’s injunction order, the county agreed to settle the case for $160,000 and additional provisions relating to the expansion of the ministry.
About Dalton + Tomich
Established in 2010, Dalton + Tomich PLC is the nation’s leader in protecting the religious property rights of faith communities and is comprised of religious liberty, land use, denominational trust law, and business law attorneys. Learn more about our services at https://www.daltontomich.com/.
The attorneys of Dalton & Tomich, PLC have the experience and the knowledge to work with you to develop a legal solution that helps accomplish your goals. Our collaborative approach has helped leaders like you grow businesses and banks, develop and expand churches, and build nonprofit organizations nationwide.
In my role as Administrative Bishop for the Church of God, quite often we are faced with issues that involve local governments and municipalities. Many of these issues that arise in dealing with entities are land use related. I have found Dalton & Tomich’s experience and expertise in this area to be a valuable resource and asset in every situation.
Never one time during a year-long litigation process did Dalton & Tomich demonstrate anything other than Christ-like professionalism. They managed the legal details, while we continued to do church. How they managed themselves, managed our case, and represented our church set the table for me and our church to be where we are today.
Dalton & Tomich’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. Their personal interest in helping us went “above and beyond” just the call of duty.