Garden City, Kansas is being sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the U.S. Constitution, and state law over allegations that it has discriminated against a local church, Mount Zion Church of God in Christ (Church). The Church alleges the following in its complaint.
The Church, which consists of about thirty members, has been operating for ten years at the same location in the City’s Central Business District, where it leases a building consisting of approximately 10,000 square feet. The Church provides the following services and ministries to the local community: (a) weekend services; (b) assistance with medical needs; (c) financial and housing support; (d) outreach activities for disadvantaged youth; (e) educational assistance for single mothers; and (f) assistance to veterans, the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly and single-family mothers. During its ten years of operating at this location, there have been no incidents or complaints from neighbors.
On September 29, 2014, the City Attorney sent a letter to the Church “instructing the Church to cease its use of the property as a church or other area of worship.” The City asserts that the Church has been operating illegally in the Central Business District because religious uses are prohibited there, and has threatened to prosecute the Church unless the religious use ceases.
The Church alleges that the City’s zoning code violates RLUIPA’s equal terms provision on its face because it treats religious uses worse than secular assembly uses. While religious uses are prohibited from the Central Business District, the following uses are allowed as of right: (a) amusement places; (b) auditoriums; (c) business or commercial schools, including dancing and music; (d) hotels and motels; (e) libraries and museums; (f) meeting halls; (g) court buildings; (h) private clubs, fraternities, sororities, and lodges; and (i) theaters. The Church also brings an equal terms as-applied challenge, contending that the City’s application of its zoning code has treated the Church worse than other secular assembly uses, as well as a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Further, it claims that the City’s actions violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and state law.
On November 14, 2014, the Court issued a Consent Order Preliminarily Enjoining Garden City. The Order states: “By agreement of the parties, Garden City is preliminarily enjoined from prohibiting or interfering with Plaintiff’s use of the property at 606 N. Main Street, Garden City Kansas (the “Property”) as a church and for religious assembly and from enforcing its zoning code to treat Plaintiff’s use of the Property as a church as a ‘prohibited’ or ‘illegal’ use of the Property until further order of the Court.”