Church Sues to End Discrimination in Hazel Crest
Updated: Jan 13, 2021
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CHURCH SUES TO END DISCRIMINATION IN HAZEL CREST
MONDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2020 – HAZEL CREST, IL
The Word Seed Church has filed a lawsuit against religious discrimination regarding the purchase of property in response to the Village of Hazel Crest’s unfair and burdensome zoning ordinance.
In the process of searching for property, the Church has learned that its ability to obtain property in the Village is substantially restricted on account of the Village’s zoning ordinance that does not provide any place in the Village of Hazel Crest for the Church to meet freely as of right.
Instead, the Village only allows churches and other religious assemblies in the three residential districts, and then only as a “special use.” In order to establish a church in a residential district, the zoning ordinance subjects churches and other religious assemblies to an onerous, expensive, time consuming, and overly discretionary process in order to obtain a “Special Use Permit.”
Furthermore, the Village zoning ordinance completely excludes churches from the Village’s business, limited manufacturing, and all other non-residential districts, even as a “special use.” This is particularly burdensome as the business districts in the Village contain the best properties for the Church’s worship.
Such treatment violates the United States Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause as well as the “Equal Terms,” “Unreasonable Limitations,” “Substantial Burden,” and “Total Exclusion” provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
“It’s a bit surprising to see a municipality prohibit all new churches in any location unless they first get ‘special permission’ from the Village,” said John Mauck, attorney for the Church. “We hope Hazel Crest will quickly correct this inequity as it is also discriminatory for the Village to allow ‘meeting halls’ in one of its business districts, such as VFW halls and masonic lodges, but those wanting to worship the Lord are excluded."
The Word Seed Church, which has primarily been conducting services in its pastor’s own home in Markham, claims that the ability to fully and effectively conduct religious exercise has been substantially hampered by not having a church property.
For instance, crucial to a church’s mission is the ability to serve the community in various ways including full worship services, weddings, baptisms, communion, and other ministries, all of which Word Seed cannot do without a designated church building.
In addition, the Church has been informed that without a building in which to worship, the State of Illinois will not reinstate the Church’s sales tax exemption.
“The scripture tells us not to neglect meeting together, but to encourage one another in Hebrews 10:25,” Pastor Keinon Washington said. “It also says in Luke 14:23 that we are to go and compel them to come in, that Christ’s house shall be filled. In order to fulfill this great commission of Christ, a building for gathering, fellowship, and teaching is of importance. We are kingdom builders. Our church brings to the community a commitment to serve as a spiritual influence and guide to all those who are in need. We were commissioned to preach the Gospel into all the world as it states in Mark 16:15, and we wish to serve as advocates for this community in meeting their primary needs of food, clothing, and shelter.”
“I felt it necessary by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to file this lawsuit not just for The Word Seed Church, but for our brothers and sisters in Christ who may not know how or understand what is needed to subdue and possess their own land when many municipalities and cities hinder the fulfillment of the charge by Christ for churches.”
The Honorable Harry D. Leinenweber is presiding over the case.
The Word Seed Church previously filed a complaint against the Village of Homewood in August for similar reasons. The congregation hopes to acquire a church building in either community once the religious discriminations are removed.