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Church Discrimination - A True Step Against Religious Freedom

by Rik Charbonneaux  
6/27/2020 / Christian Living

“No one can serve two masters .. You cannot serve God and money." Matthew 6:24 ESV

In the City of Salinas, California, you do not have the right to worship in the church of your choice if interferes with tourism dollars. No, you did read that correctly.

Two years ago (2018), having rented several store fronts along Main Street to serve as their church sites for over the past 25 years, the New Harvest Bible Church of Salinas had outgrown its seating capacity once again and decided to buy a storefront this time. (Beverly Fabrics)

Despite the fact that they had been along Main Street for 25 years and that they were also sharing this portion of the Main Street area with a live children's theatre, two cinemas, and an event center,the City of Salinas prohibited New Harvest Bible Church from holding any services right after they bought the building.

The City said that for the New Harvest Bible Church to hold a service would violate the city zoning ordinance which prohibits street level religious facilities along their "revitalized" Main Street. Citing the obvious, the church members brought suit against the city for violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

On May 29, 2020, it was the decision of a federal court that "churches generate limited interest, do not draw tourists, and therefore detract from the city's goals of vibrancy", and therefore the city of Salinas did not violate the federal Act, which protects churches from being discrimination against in zoning laws.

When this decision was handed down, the public sentient that came out against the city's actions was strong, and sizable crowds came out to protest and to support the church, but to no avail. The City is now forcing the church members to sell the building, as it cannot lawfully be used as a house of worship at street level.

The Pacific Justice Institute, who represented New Harvest Bible Church, says that they have appealed the decision to the ninth district court for review. There is some hope that prior precedence set in a similar court decision may considered in the upcoming review.*

Opinion: So why was there no front end discussion between the city and the church prior to the purchase of this building? My opinion is that there were none, and that the city wanted a Main Street free of churches and they have succeeded, for now.

And such is the on-going struggle between the love of money vs the love of religious freedom in America.

Let us love our churches, stay informed and to defend them well at every challenge. Amen


*In a similar lawsuit, PJI represented Faith Fellowship Church in 2010 against the City of San Leandro, California and that church was awarded $2.3 million.

"Calif. city bans church from meeting at its own property, says it doesn't fit in downtown" by Anugrah Kumar, Christian Post/Church/06-22-2020
"California court rules city can exclude church services" -
"Oldtown church loses suit against Salinas.." - 06/22/2020

Rik Charbonneaux is a retired NE Iowan who loves all of God's creatures.

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