City elders in City of Port Jervis, New York passed an ordinance that banned houses of worship to use land within a designated business district. Learn more about how the Department of Justice intervened atFirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
The City of Port Jervis, New York had to act quickly when it was sued by the United States Department of Justice. Port Jervis maintained a zoning scheme that allowed churches to occupy a facility within what it called the Central Business District.
So, Goodwill Evangelical Presbyterian Church entered into an agreement to purchase property within that district. Soon after, the City elders passed a new ordinance that banned the use of land within the Central Business District for purposes of places of worship. The City rationalized the ban on all houses of worship, regardless of religious tradition, by noting that the presence of a house of worship would cause problems of parking, commercial development, and liquor licensing.
That’s when the United States Department of Justice decided that it should intervene. Two days after the DOJ filed its lawsuit alleging that the City had treated religious institutions differently from secular institutions that would have had a nearly identical effect, the City of Port Jervis gave up. The City agreed to rescind the law, engage in religious land use training, and allow the Department of Justice to monitor future applications.
Cities are welcome to make zoning decisions, so long as they do so in an equal, nondiscriminatory manner. It is unlawful for a city to preclude a house of worship while allowing a secular organization to proceed in a similar manner. Cities must treat churches in the same way that it treats theaters, veterans halls, and nonprofit organizations.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.
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