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Church sues Georgia city over zoning policy

By The Associated Press
09.15.04

ATLANTA — A Marietta church is challenging the city’s requirement that churches be on at least 5 acres.

The Georgia Brazilian Assembly of God sued the city Sept. 13, claiming the city’s zoning policy is discriminatory because it does not apply to all buildings.

The church sought permission to build a chapel on a parcel just under 3 acres on a busy Marietta street. The request was denied because of the 5-acre rule.

“Our church is very small, not a lot of people. We just want to build a small chapel,” said Izabelle Rodrigues, daughter of church pastor Walter Silva. She said the church has less than 50 members and is currently leasing worship space from another church.

Marietta’s planning and zoning manager, Rusty Roth, said he’s not sure why the church rule was enacted, but said churches aren’t alone in needing minimum land space for approval. Used car dealerships, for example, have acreage minimums, he said.

The church rule “has been in our ordinance for quite some time,” Roth said. “Typically churches need quite a bit of land for the ministries and amenities they offer nowadays, all the parking they need.”

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, is being counseled by a religious freedom group in Missouri.

The Alliance Defense Fund of Kansas City, Mo., took the case and is seeking to repeal Marietta’s church rule.

ADF attorney Kevin Theriot could not be immediately reached for comment, but he released a statement Sept. 13 saying, “A city cannot apply one set of rules to churches and another set of rules to everyone else. That is clearly unconstitutional and illegal.”

Rodrigues said she hopes Marietta will abandon its rule before the case goes to court.

“We’re not bothering anyone or making any problems,” she said. “I hope God will touch their hearts, and we won’t have to go to court.”


Related

Archdiocese sues Louisville over control of its property

Church says government interferes with religious freedom by refusing to allow buildings to be leveled for parking. 07.07.04

RLUIPA, religious buildings & zoning

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