The Justice Department (DOJ) has sued a Nebraska village alleging that it had violated a federal law protecting religious institutions when it denied a local church from expanding their facilities in the locale.
The department on Thursday filed the lawsuit against the Village of Walthill, which has a population of about 750 people, saying that it violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when it denied the Light of the World Gospel Ministries from building a worship facility for “church services, bible studies, youth and children ministries, and cafeteria ministries.”
According to the complaint (pdf), Light of the World Gospel Ministries had purchased several old and deteriorating buildings across the street from the churchs current meeting place in a downtown area in the village. The church was hoping to construct a new church and other facilities in order to expand its space for its growing membership.
The village government initially approved the churchs building permit but later revoked it after four individuals testified at a board meeting. The four members alleged that the church had “proselytized in ways they believed to be offensive or that members of [the church] held unfavorable religious views of Native Americans or of Native American religious beliefs.”
The village also denied applications for multiple permits from the church to demolish and clean up the dangerous structure on the churchs property, the church says.
In 2017, the village told the church that it needed a special use permit to construct a new church on its property in a commercial area in downtown Walthill. The church then applied for a special use permit but its application was denied. According to the complaint, the village board did not give them a reason for the rejection.
During the period where the church sought to build its facilities, the village had approved applications to build nonreligious places of assembly in the district, including a library and an education center.
The church subsequently sued the village, alleging in 2018 that the local government had violated the churchs freedom of speech and freedom of assembly rights and discriminated against the church based on religion (pdf).
In their complaint on Thursday, DOJ attorneys alleged that the villages denial of the churchs applications violates the “equal terms” provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which requires religious assemblies to be treated at least as well as nonreligious assemblies. The complaint also claims that the villages actions “imposed a substantial burden on the churchs religious exercise in violation of another provision of the Act.”
“Treating places of worship less favorably than nonreligious assemblies is unlawful discrimination against religious exercise,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that governments do not deny congregations their federallRead More – Source