Federal Court Enters Injunctive Order against Bayview, Texas in RLUIPA Suit Filed by Church

By:  Evan J. Seeman and Dwight Merriam, Robinson & Cole, LLP

We previously reported on the case Cornerstone Church by the Bay v. Town of Bayview, Texas, in which the Church and the Laguna Madre Christian Academy are suing the Town (population approx. 400) under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA), and the state and federal constitutions over a zoning ordinance it claims prohibits it from operating a church and religious school on property it owns in the Town’s Single-Family Dwelling District (read prior post here).  Among Plaintiffs’ claims is that the Town treats religious uses less favorably than other purported secular assembly uses, in violation of RLUIPA’s equal terms provision, because while the zoning ordinance prohibits religious uses from the subject zone, it allows other secular assembly uses – golf courses, farms, truck gardens, orchards, green houses and nurseries.

On November 24, 2014, an injunctive order was entered by agreement of the parties in which:

“Defendants in the above-cited cause, as well as any and all agents, attorneys, and employees of Defendants, and anyone acting under their control, are hereby enjoined from enforcing the Zoning Ordinance against the Church and its operations, and from any other kind of interference with its continued religious services or ministry on the Property located at 106 Madelyn Rose Boulevard, Bayview, Texas 78566.  Defendants are further enjoined from preventing Plaintiffs from seeking a special-use variance, or other permits necessary for Plaintiffs to begin improving the above-referenced Property, and from interfering with Plaintiffs’ permitting efforts to establish a religious school at the Property.”

Although the Town agreed to the injunctive order, including processing any zoning applications submitted by Plaintiffs, it has denied and continues to deny all of Plaintiffs’ allegations.

Church Pastor Hamilton Musser released the following statement of the injunctive order: “We are thrilled that the court upheld our right to use our building as a church.  We look forward to working with the Town and are confident that the Town will approve the plans of our church school, so that we can continue to minister to the surrounding community and the children and families of Laguna Madre Christian Academy.”

Plaintiffs are represented by the Liberty Institute, whose “mission is to defend and restore religious liberty across America—in our schools, for our churches, inside the military, and throughout the public arena” (more on the Liberty Institute here).  The Liberty Institute’s press release on the injunctive order is available here.

The injunctive order is available here.

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