Court order allows City Walk to continue transition home ministry in Wakulla County.
A federal court in Tallahassee has entered a preliminary injunction against Wakulla County, Florida, protecting the religious exercise of Dalton & Tomich client City Walk – Urban Mission. The order comes just two months after we filed suit under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act—a federal law that protects the land use rights of religious institutions and assemblies. The suit seeks to secure City Walk’s right to continue its small transition home ministry.
City Walk, based in Tallahassee, began operating its religious transition home in Wakulla County in 2013 to help those in need find love, forgiveness, and a new life in Jesus. In addition to shelter, the ministry provides a recovery program on the organization’s heavily wooded 3.4-acre property. Over the years, City Walk’s ministry has faced opposition because it does not turn away registered sex offenders. Certain neighbors and county officials have tried to pressure City Walk to abandon its ministry. Recently, the County moved to shut the ministry down through zoning enforcement, aiming to limit City Walk to two people in the three-bedroom home.That’s when City Walk was forced to file suit.
On July 9, 2020, the Court found the county’s restriction substantially burdened City Walk’s religious exercise and entered a preliminary order barring all county officials from attempting to prevent City Walk from housing up to six unrelated adults in its transition home. Further, in ruling against the county, the Court found the county planning director’s sworn statement not to be credible because it was inconsistent with prior representations she had made to City Walk – and also inconsistent with the county’s own land use code.
Judge Mark Walker’s order begins with a quote from scripture: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (Matthew 25:44.2) To which the Lord replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Every day City Walk seeks to welcome and serve the stranger. Judge Walker’s allows City Walk to continue to do so.
This case is yet another reminder of how RLUIPA helps level the playing field for religious institutions in the land use and zoning context.
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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.
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