A township in Michigan has been sued for refusing permission for a religious organization that owns 40 acres of land there to use five acres of its own property to build a small chapel.
The complaint was filed by the American Freedom Law Center in U.S. District Court in Michigan on behalf of Catholic Healthcare International and its chief, Jere Palazzolo.
It alleges violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Michigan Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by the township and Sharon Stone, the ordinance officer.
“Our nation was founded by religious refugees in search of religious freedom,” explained AFLC Senior Counsel Robert Muise, “Consequently, places of religious worship, such as CHI’s proposed St. Pio Chapel and prayer campus, hold a special place in America. The township’s rejection of our clients’ right to religious worship on CHI’s private property is not in keeping with our proud tradition of accommodating people of faith, and, in fact, it violates our clients’ fundamental rights protected by the United States and Michigan Constitutions and federal statutory law.”
The proposal rejected by the township was for the site to hold a chapel, the St. Pio Chapel, which would hold 95 people, along with a parking lot for 39 vehicles.
“The St. Pio Chapel will contain a tabernacle, which is a liturgical furnishing used to house the Eucharist outside of Mass. A tabernacle provides a safe location where the Eucharist can be kept for the adoration of the faithful and for later use. Canon Law requires a tabernacle to be in a secure location, such as the St. Pio Chapel, because it helps prevent the profanation of the Eucharist. Without the St. Pio Chapel, CHI is unable to carry out a core function of its religious activities,” the legal team explained.
“The St. Pio Chapel will be a place where people can come to pray, attend Mass, and adore Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The prayer campus is not a high-volume site. It is a place where people can come and walk the trails and pray. One trail, for example, will allow visitors to pray the Stations of the Cross. The proposed development will retain the rural atmosphere of the area, and it will promote the quality of life.”
“This case represents the hostility Jewish and Christian groups now face in America,” explained AFLC co-founder David Yerushalmi, an Orthodox Jew. “When Jews or Christians seek to modestly employ their religious liberty, they are subject to unlawful denials and restrictions. The last refuge of liberty must be the courts . . . because if not, civil society is no longer.”
The project would only take about five of the site’s 40 acres, and the chapel itself would be 600 feet off of the nearest public street.
The complaint itself explains the plaintiffs are seeking “a declaration that defendants violated their clearly established rights … a declaration that the zoning laws of Genoa Charter Township and the township’s application of those laws as set forth in this complaint unlawfully restrict CHI’s use and enjoyment of its property for religious purposes and the free exercise of plaintiffs’ religion in violation of the United States and Michigan Constitutions and RLIUPA; a declaration that through the enforcement and attempted enforcement of the township zoning laws, defendants have substantially burdened and unlawfully infringed upon plaintiffs’ rights to religious exercise, religious expression, and expressive association…”
The township, after the religious group agreed to all the changes recommended for its plan by the planning commission, rejected the proposal.
Further, the legal team explained, officials demanded that the property be cleansed of “anything religious,” including signs, even though they are “not even visible from the road.”
The claim requests a permanent injunction against the township’s actions as well as damages.
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