Lynn v. Sekulow

Lynn v. Sekulow

Jury Verdict: Religious Discrimination Won’t Be Tolerated

Metro Nashville, Tennessee has discovered a valuable lesson:  Religious discrimination is a serious charge and one that can be very costly.


We represented Teen Challenge, a Christian-based organization that provides assistance to young people dealing with addiction.  The organization wanted to build a facility on 13 acres of land it purchased in the Nashville area.  Government officials initially approved the zoning request – then revoked approval and enacted an ordinance specifically targeting and discriminating against Teen Challenge.  Since Teen Challenge could no longer use the 13 acres for its intended purposes, the ministry auctioned off the property.



We filed suit in federal court in June 2007 against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.  And, after a two-day trial this week in Nashville, the jury found that government officials violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.  And the jury awarded Teen Challenge damages totaling $967,995.


In an interview with the Nashville City Paper, Teen Challenge Nashville Executive Director Norma Calhoun told the reporter:  “It’s a new day for us.” Calhoun added that Teen Challenge would now look to buy another piece of property for a new facility.



The councilman who proposed the discriminatory legislation shutting out Teen Challenge in the first place is Metro Councilman Rip Ryman.  He told the Tennessean newspaper  that he wasn’t surprised by the verdict.  But he said he didn’t regret taking action to keep Teen Challenge out of his district as he was seeking re-election last year.  “I thought it was the right thing to do,” Ryman told the newspaper. “It was what everybody out here wanted. When you’re running for office, you’ve got to listen to your constituents.”



The problem with Ryman’s logic is that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.  And it will cost taxpayers nearly one-million dollars in damages.


And as the Nashville City Paper reportedthe discriminatory action taken by Metro Nashville still has the attention of the federal government.




The paper reported:


The U.S. Department of Justice also took notice of Teen Challenge’s case and earlier this year initiated an investigation into Metro’s land use policies. That investigation is still pending, although indications were that the DOJ was keeping tabs on the civil suit before it reached a decision.



As a good-faith effort to the DOJ and at the urging of Director of Law Sue Cain, Metro Council in July repealed the zoning change that prompted the lawsuit.


But attorney Larry Crain, who represented Teen Challenge in the case, said the zoning change reversal was too little, too late.


“For 17 months, this organization was effectively banned from occupying property in Davidson County,” Crain said. “Only six weeks ago were they allowed to begin again the search for a home that they had already bought.”




The fact is that this is an incredible victory for Teen Challenge and for the rights of religious organizations.  This jury verdict sends a powerful message that religious discrimination by government officials simply won’t be tolerated.  And the damage award also sends a message that there’s a hefty price to pay for those who discriminate against religious organizations. 



We’re delighted with the outcome of this case and are pleased that the mission and work of Teen Challenge can now move forward.



Comments read comments(6)
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posted September 13, 2008 at 2:27 am

I hope that the good God fearing people of Nashville have the sense enough not to drag this into the courts of endless appeal. Justice was served here and I hope that as a Democrat, I would not want the Supreme Justice of the GOP reversing the verdict. The courts seem to be on the side of the Ever Holy Dollar rather on the side of fairness.

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posted September 13, 2008 at 5:24 am

Justice prevailed. It does every once in a while. I would have defended the religious freedom of a Buddhist teen challenge facility as well. Our forefathers would not have tolerated religious discrimination and I don’t think we should either.

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posted September 13, 2008 at 9:31 am

I don’t understand why this was a case of religious discrimination. It appears (from the linked interview) that the organization was targeted because residents did not want a drug rehabilitation center near them. Is there more to it than that? If that is the case, it seems to me that defending the center by claiming religious discrimination is somewhat disingenuous. If this had been a secular organization, what would the recourse have been?

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Cara Floyd

posted September 14, 2008 at 12:10 am

It is great to see justice prevail. I hope that this continues throughout our country and around the world. I would like to see more facilities to help teens get off drugs, seeing how this is our future leaders of tomarrow. I think it sounds like a good idea to have facilities helping people with our tax dollars involved, rather than funding our abortion enablers(Planned Parenthood)! Of course I have seen the argument of it being a choice to murder the unborn. Am I supposed to sit back and watch people on t.v. defend the right to murder children while facilitating our tax dollars toward funding abortion referral facilities? God help us all! And they try and suppress the antidote to the problem, our religious freedom. If you just blend in with society and don’t contradict any leader, maybe you have a shot of being a well productive society member, think again. Take a stand, make a difference, show people you have enough that God has given you to make a difference in society. Show them that every individual matters! Show them that you can make a difference! Show them that you love them and that they can’t take the God out of you, no matter how much they try!

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Blaine Nay

posted October 27, 2008 at 3:55 am

I just signed the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) petition regarding anti-Christian bigotry ( Now, I want to know what ACLJ intends to do about bigotry aimed, primarily by self-proclaimed Christians, at a member of the Chritian community — the “Mormon” church. One good example of anti-Mormon bigotry is what has happend to courageous and principled Mormons as a consequence of the Mormon effort to support California Proposition 8 (to proclaim marriage as the union of a man and a woman). See Not one Christian organization has stood up to condemn this attack on fellow Christians who happen to call themselves Mormons.

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N. Lindzee Lindholm

posted September 1, 2009 at 1:28 am

Zoning discrimination based on the religion is flat out wrong and unconstitutional, especially to a faith-based organization whose purpose is to help youth recover from addictions and become independent, productive members of our society. Moreover, this organization probably saves taxpayer money because ultimately, helping youth maintain independence from substance abuse allows them to be efficient workers, and not dependent on welfare or the prison system for their livelihood down the road. I rejoice with the ACLJ and Teen Challenge in such a paramount victory against discrimination of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
What Councilman Ryman did in supporting this discriminatory zoning was not only monetarily costly but ILLEGAL. What a tragedy to see that he did not have the backbone to stand up for what is RIGHT in the law’s eyes, but instead chose what would get him the votes. In the end, justice prevailed, and in turn, because he cost taxpayers $1 million, he probably received a whole lot LESS votes. As my grandma always said, “Right is right and wrong is wrong.” This principle might sound simple, but it is in essence very profound and one that I try to live my life by like she did.

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