Faithandthelaw's Blog

The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

City manufactures restrictive zoning district specifically to stop growth of Minnesota church

Posted by faithandthelaw on February 3, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Woodridge Church against the city of Medina for manufacturing a new zoning ordinance specifically designed to stop the more than 1,000-member congregation from proceeding with a building expansion on its own property.

Shortly after Woodridge Church submitted its application for the expansion, city officials placed a moratorium on church construction citywide for one year, giving them time to create an odd new zoning district that includes only the church, one other church, and city hall. The new district prohibits construction of any building over 40,000 square feet. The church’s planned expansion is 42,000 square feet.

“Churches should not be singled out for discrimination by a city’s zoning restrictions,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “Customizing ordinances and setting moratoriums with the specific purpose to curtail church growth is unconstitutional and specifically prohibited by federal law.”

Woodridge Church owns nearly 28 acres of property and has recently expanded to more than 1,000 members. To accommodate its various growing ministries, the church began working with city officials in April 2008 to develop plans in compliance with the city code before submitting its building application. Refusing to approve the plans for the church’s 42,000-square-foot building, the City Council instead placed a one-year moratorium on the construction of all church buildings in the city, with Woodridge being the only church with a pending application.

During the moratorium, the city devised a new “Rural Public/Semi-Public” zoning district, which includes three parcels of land:  Woodridge Church, city hall, and another church.  The city hall building already complies with the square-footage limitation, and the city has no current plans to expand. In the spring of 2009, the City Council rejected the City Planning Commission’s recommendation to limit buildings in the zone to 45,000 square feet and instead set the limit to 40,000 square feet, which kept the church’s 42,000-square-foot plans from meeting compliance. After the city adopted the ordinance restricting construction in the RPS zone, it lifted the moratorium.

ADF attorneys contend that the city’s restrictive zoning ordinance is in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Minnesota Constitution, and federal law–specifically, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prevents zoning officials from singling out churches for discriminatory treatment.

Charles Shreffer, one of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, Woodridge Church v. City of Medina, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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