This land is your land … but you can’t build on it
A South Texas congregation has won its three-year legal struggle with the town of Bayview for the right to build a church and school. The long legal battle draws attention to a persistent problem churches face when seeking to expand their community presence.
In 2014, Cornerstone Church by the Bay and Laguna Madre Academy purchased land on which it planned to build a new church and school. But an ambiguous zoning ordinance prompted church leaders to ask the town council for a specific zoning permit to begin construction. The council unanimously denied the request and, instead, enforced a city ban on churches and schools in the neighborhood in which Cornerstone had purchased land.
Zoning conflicts between cities and houses of worship are all too frequent, said attorneys with First Liberty representing the church and school. Cornerstone’s case ended with the city finally granting the permit, but the case highlights municipalities’ ignorance of or indifference to the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Congress unanimously passed the law in 2000 to prohibit government entities from using strict zoning ordinances to prevent land use by religious organizations while holding it out to preferred developers—which usually produce greater tax revenue. —B.P.