Beliefnet
Faith & Justice

It’s not uncommon.  A small church continues to grow and requires more space for worship services.  Often, leasing another building solves the problem.  But what happens when the church runs into a roadblock in its desire to expand?

That’s what happened to the Immanuel Church, which sought permission to lease a building in the commercial district of the Town of Schodack, New York, which is near Albany.

The town refused the proper permit to the church on the grounds that religious organizations were not permitted in their commercial district pursuant to the zoning ordinance.  The Town’s ordinance permitted, however, similar non-religious uses such as private clubs and lodges. 

We got involved.  Our attorneys sent a demand letter to Schodack notifying them that the zoning ordinance as written and applied to deny Immanuel Church a permit, violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by treating religious organizations on less than equal terms than similar non-religious organizations.

We sent a demand letter to the Town indicating that we were prepared to take legal action to protect the rights of the church if this discriminatory action continued.

I’m happy to report that in response to our demands, the Town of Schodack agreed to grant the church a permit and amend its zoning ordinance to comply with RLUIPA’s equal terms provision. 

That’s a victory for the church and its Pastor, Brad Guenther.  This new site gives them an opportunity to worship while accommodating their growing congregation.

Pastor Guenther told our attorney who handled the case that he was so “thankful” for our assistance in this matter.  As the Pastor put it, “Through the help of ACLJ, we are preparing to enter our new facility after a year of being denied access.”

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