For the past 30 years, Harvest Christian Camp has provided a summer camp for thousands of Christian children on a 36 acre site in Henry County, Indiana, in accordance with its religious beliefs to “help children and teens to develop a strong life-long relationship with the Lord [through] praise and worship, Bible classes, devotions and night services to strengthen their spiritual lives [and have] a lot of fun and fellowship.” The Camp’s facilities include 13 open-air cabins, 106 beds, three classrooms/dorms, a sanctuary, kitchen, and shop. Each year the Camp hosts about 500 campers between the ages of 4 and 17, who participate in outdoor and educational activities such as archery, swimming, go-carts, giant slip and slide, paintball, music, drama and art classes, and bible study. The Camp’s sanctuary is used regularly throughout the year for religious services.
Now, the Camp has taken issue with the Rush County Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) approval of a special exception permit to allow the operation of a dairy farm to be located about a half mile and upwind from the Camp site. The Camp claims in its complaint that the dairy farm “will include, among other things, a free stall barn to house 1,400 cows along with three earthen, outdoor waste lagoons for the collection of approximately 20 million gallons of feces, urine, silage leachate, contaminated storm water, and process[ed] wastewater. The collected waste will be emptied from the lagoons and spread on various land parcels in Rush and Henry counties that surround” the Camp site.
The proposed dairy farm is a “Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)” as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (read about it here) and under Indiana law is subject to state regulation as well. As discussed in the report Environmental Impact of Industrial Farm Animal Production, the potential impacts of a CAFO can be substantial.
The Camp has sued the ZBA in state court “due to the concern that the noxious odors and harmful air emissions caused by the 1,400 dairy cows and millions of gallons of urine and feces so close to its property will destroy the outdoor experiences for children that are central to Harvest Christian Camp’s mission, purpose and exercise of religion.” The Camp alleges violations of its religious beliefs as protected by the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act and the U.S. Constitution, in addition to claims under Indiana law. The Camp’s complaint is available here.
The Camp’s lawyer stated: “The camp’s very existence is at stake. Parents of young children are not going to want to send their kids to this camp with that sort of operation so close by.” Local coverage is available here.