July 12, 2020, 4:29 pm
A federal court in Tallahassee has entered a preliminary injunction against Wakulla County, Florida, protecting the religious exercise of local church City Walk – Urban Mission. The order comes just two months after City Walk’s attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC filed suit under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act—a federal law that protects the land use rights of religious institutions and assemblies. The suit seeks to secure City Walk’s right to continue its small transition home ministry.
City Walk, based in Tallahassee, began operating its religious transition home in Wakulla County in 2013 to help those in need find love, forgiveness, and a new life in Jesus. In addition to shelter, the ministry provides a recovery program on the organization’s heavily wooded 3.4-acre property. Over the years, City Walk’s ministry has faced opposition because it does not turn away registered sex offenders. Certain neighbors and county officials have tried to pressure City Walk to abandon its ministry. Recently, the County moved to shut the ministry down through zoning enforcement, aiming to limit City Walk to two people in the three-bedroom home. That’s when City Walk was forced to file suit.
On July 9, 2020, the Court found the county’s restriction substantially burdened City Walk’s religious exercise and entered a preliminary order barring all county officials from attempting to prevent City Walk from housing up to six unrelated adults in its transition home. Further, in ruling against the county, the Court found the county planning director’s sworn statement not to be credible because it was inconsistent with prior representations she had made to City Walk – and also inconsistent with the county’s own land use code.
Judge Mark Walker’s order (which you can read here: City Walk Urban Mission v Wakulla County Order Granting) begins with a quote from scripture: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (Matthew 25:44.2) To which the Lord replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Id. 25:45.
Renee Miller, Pastor of City Walk, expressed gratitude upon hearing the Court’s order. “It is unfortunate that we had to file a federal lawsuit to protect our right to serve those in need, yet we are thankful this order will allow us to continue our small but powerful ministry,” Miller said. “We hope the county will now stop spending its limited resources on fighting our spiritual outreach efforts.”
Dalton & Tomich represents religious assemblies and institutions across the country, defending their rights under the federal religious land use act. In December 2019, the firm successfully represented Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in a lawsuit against the City of Lenexa, Kansas, which was prohibiting the Church’s use of its property to operate a temporary homeless shelter. As part of the resolution, which allowed the temporary shelter to operate, the City also updated its zoning code to reflect the Church’s right to do so.
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Author: Florida Action Committee
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