On Friday, September 27, the United States District Court of the Western District of Michigan entered a Consent Decree securing Hope Lutheran Church’s right to continue meeting at 132 S. State St. in St. Ignace, Michigan. In addition to the consent decree, the City agreed to pay the Church over $60,000 to settle the Church’s claims to damages and attorneys’ fees.
The consent decree and settlement payment bring a successful end to the lawsuit Dalton & Tomich attorneys Noel Sterett and Larry Opalewski filed last fall. Hope Lutheran filed suit after City officials said the property was not zoned for a church. The suit asserted claims under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) which requires municipalities to treat religious assemblies and nonreligious assemblies equally. Because St. Ignace’s Zoning Code freely permits assembly halls, townhalls, and theaters at the property, it was unlawful for St. Ignace to prohibit religious assemblies there. The federal law is designed to ensure that the religious content of an assembly use is not used to determine whether it is permitted or prohibited from a certain zone.
This excellent and swift result is another example of Dalton & Tomich’s commitment to securing the religious land use rights of its clients all across the country. No religious group should have to go through what this church went through to secure its ability to gather for worship in its community. But cases like these are not uncommon. Religious groups need to be aware of the protections they are afforded under federal law and municipalities would do well to understand the law as well.
[cta-area title=”Free Church Land Use and Zoning Guide” buttontext=”Download Now” buttonlink= “https://www.attorneysforlanduse.com/church-land-use-guide/”] Have you recently purchased a building or land and discovered you can’t use it because it isn’t zoned for religious assembly? Learn how to navigate the process and win the right to use your property . [/cta-area]