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New RLUIPA Suit Filed; Salvation Temple Church v. City of Hazel Park

Salvation Temple Church, is a Christian Church that entered into a purchase agreement for the purchase of property known as 25000 N. Chrysler Dr., Hazel Park, Michigan. The property, vacant since 2002 and last used as a banquet facility, is zoned BC-1, Chrysler Business District, under the City of Hazel Park Zoning Ordinances. Assembly halls are permitted uses in the BC-1 District; religious uses are not. Hazel Park only allows religious uses to locate in Residential Districts, which are “100%” developed, thereby totally excluding any new religious uses within the City.

In February 2010, Salvation Temple applied to the City Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance to allow it to use the vacant assembly hall as a place of worship. The request was denied. Salvation Temple notified the City of Hazel Park that its decision to exclude religious uses violates the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 USC 2000cc et al, and asked to resolve this matter. The City refused to respond, and therefore, suit was filed. Salvation Temple is represented by Daniel Dalton of Dalton& Tomich, plc, a noted religious land use expert.

The Hazel Park ordinance in question was adopted in 2005 three months after an Islamic group sought City approval to open a Mosque in a nearby location. After the use was denied, the City Planner recommended the Mosque locate at 25000 N. Chrysler Drive, the building at issue. The City, however, did not follow the recommendation of its planner. Rather, the City introduced and later passed the zoning Ordinance “eliminating religious uses.”

The City denied zoning approval to Salvation Temple based on the 2005 ordinance which prohibited new religious institutions from opening on industrial or commercial property within the limits of Hazel Park. The Ordinance allows for religious institutions to open, with the approval of the City, in residential areas. However, according to their own records, Hazel Park is “100% developed for residential use” and does not have a collection of residential property available large enough to house a religious institution with parking.

Salvation Temple is at risk of losing its worship facility by the end of the year. “Salvation Temple wishes to continue its service to the people of Hazel Park. The city’s unconstitutional behavior has made this impossible,” said Dalton. The U.S. constitution provides that Congress shall make no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. This prohibition has been extended to all state and local governments through the enactment of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 USC 2000cc, et seq. Congress unanimously passed RLUIPA in 2000 to address local government discrimination in addressing land use applications submitted by religious organization and in doing so, leveled the playing field for religious uses and secular uses. Further, the Michigan Constitution expressly encourages religion as central to government and the pleasure of mankind and states, in part, that every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.

Salvation Temple Church challenges the City of Hazel Park, Michigan for its violation of the United States Constitution, the Michigan Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

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