Church Sues for Religious Ban in Wine Country

Church Sues for Religious Ban in Wine Country Temecula, CA. Today, Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship filed a complaint in federal court against the County of Riverside, California, based on the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act of 2000.

Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship, commonly known as “Calvary Wine Country,” is located in the region of California known as the Temecula Wine Country.

Calvary Wine Country opened its doors in 1996 when churches were once allowed to locate in the 17,900 acre Wine Country region – an area equal to 28 square miles. However, soon after Calvary Wine Country was approved, the County banned churches from the Temecula Wine Country, leaving Calvary Wine Country as a nonconforming use. Now, Calvary’s ability to expand its facilities for its flourishing congregation in the Wine Country is uncertain at best.

Calvary Wine Country plans to remain in the Wine Country and to build a larger sanctuary on its 28 acre adjacent property. However, the County’s zoning ordinances still ban churches and Calvary Wine Country is the only church in the Temecula Wine Country. Meanwhile, the County permits special occasion facilities, wineries, hotels, resorts, restaurants, and many other tourist related uses in the Wine Country.

Pastor Clark Van WickCalvary’s pastor Clark Van Wick said, “It’s a tragedy to see our religious liberty eroded in this country where men and women have fought and died to protect our liberty. It’s un-American to see churches outlawed like we’re seeing here in the neighborhood I’ve lived in for 27 years.”

“This is a classic case for the federal religious land use law that protects churches and requires that zoning authorities treat religious assemblies on equal terms to other nonreligious assemblies,” said Robert Tyler, Managing Partner of Tyler & Bursch, LLP and counsel for Calvary Wine Country. He further commented, “Calvary Wine Country has long desired to just be a good neighbor, to work cooperatively with the County and to provide a place of worship for the thousands of residents that live in the Wine Country.”

Unfortunately, Calvary Wine Country has been the target of litigation by a “loose” organization named Protect Wine Country. Calvary Wine Country has had to fight a neighboring vintner, a special interest group, and other politically influential wineries just to continue its right to exist on its own property.CCBF Church

Robert Tyler commented, “It is ironic that Father Junipero Sera, the ‘Father of California Wine,’ planted the first known vineyard in California at the San Diego Mission de Alcala and vineyards graced the California Missions for many years. Today, however, Riverside County has determined that a church is no longer compatible with vineyards and has banned all religious assemblies from the Temecula Wine Country.”

Calvary Wine Country is represented by Advocates for Faith & Freedom in association with Tyler & Bursch, LLP. Robert Tyler filed one of the first lawsuits under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 on behalf of the Elsinore Christian Center located in Lake Elsinore, California. That suit resulted in a successful resolution wherein the City paid more than $1.6 million in settlement. Robert’s firm, Tyler & Bursch, LLP, has become one of the nation’s premier firms for handling religious land use cases on behalf of churches.

A copy of the Complaint can be found here.

Victory for Dream Center Lake Elsinore

Pastor Brett Masters leased a store front in downtown Lake Elsinore, California, as his headquarter offices for the Lake Elsinore Dream Center. The Dream Center is a volunteer driven organization that finds & fills the needs of individuals and families in their community. They do this by connecting isolated people to God and a coDream Center Workersmmunity of support providing services that address immediate and long-term needs in order to build relationships that will allow them to speak into their God-given potential. They work to bring hope to the needy, a way off the streets, out of poverty, and into self-sufficiency. One of Pastor Brett’s plans has been to implement a weekly community assistance program called “Adopt-A-Block.” Through Adopt-A-Block, the Dream Center teams assist residents in cleaning up their properties and offer a hand-up to those in need. The Dream Center needed a conditional use permit (CUP) from the City of Lake Elsinore in order to Dream Center staffbegin using the building for their headquarters. The planning staff had been very friendly and supportive of the project.  However, during the process of obtaining the permit, Pastor Brett faced stiff opposition from a couple of individuals who spent considerable time opposing the project.  This resulted in a Planning Commission deadlock vote.

Pastor Brett was referred to Advocates for help on his appeal to the City Council.  After a review of the law protecting the religious use of land, Advocates was able to help Pastor Brett understand the existing zoning laws and the CUP process as he prepared for the public hearing at the Lake Elsinore City Council.  With much planning and prayer, the Dream Center was unanimously approved. The City of Lake Elsinore and its residents will be enjoying the assistance from this wonderful staff and many faithful volunteers for years to come.

In 2007, Advocates prevailed against the City of Lake Elsinore on behalf of Elsinore Christian CenteDream center picr  where we set precedent in the Ninth Circuit preventing zoning discrimination against churches. That case helped pave the way for this victory and many others across the country.

We appreciate the financial support and prayers from faithful people like you! It’s only with your help and donations that we can make a difference and help Pastor Brett Masters and the Dream Center.

Why Are "Adult Businesses" Protected More Than Churches?

Local zoning laws are required by law to permit “adult businesses” without the same burdens hurled upon churches. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that “adult businesses” are entitled to protection from discriminatory zoning laws because the businesses’ “speech” and “expression” are protected by the First Amendment. And why aren't churches and Christian schools entitled to the same protection as “adult businesses”? It's because of the fact no legal precedent has yet been established on behalf of the churches.

We have a plan to correct this injustice in the courts, but we need your help!

Please be on the lookout for churches that are going through the permitting process to occupy a building, expand their facilities or build a new building. Refer them to Advocates for Faith and Freedom because we can probably help.

We have also found that many zoning regulations applied to churches are unconstitutionally applied or violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Regulations are often unlawful because they impose substantial burdens on churches that are not justified or they impose burdens on churches that are not equally imposed upon other similar uses like movie theaters and assembly halls. Sometimes, churches are unlawfully excluded from zoning districts while other similar uses are permitted.

Please let your church leaders know that we are here to help them. We are searching for the right cases with the right set of facts in order to establish the legal precedent that is long overdue.

 

Victory in San Diego!

Last week, we received an urgent call from one of our ministry friends, Ron Harper. He asked for our immediate help to prevent the County of San Diego from placing a huge burden on churches.church_parking_lot Ron is a contractor who specializes in building churches. Ron informed us that the County of San Diego was planning to adopt a new law that would require all churches to drastically increase the amount of parking they provide before they expand any facilities or build a new building.

Ron said that the new law would require churches to purchase twice the amount of land currently required. Further, a church would be required to buy almost twice the amount of land that a similarly sized movie theater, convention center or other assembly-type use would be required to buy even though the parking needs are the same.

In most cases, the cost of having church in the County of San Diego would be so great that churches would be priced out of existence.

We intervened and wrote an extensive legal opinion to the County of San Diego on behalf of numerous churches, including Maranatha Christian Fellowship and Horizon Christian Fellowship, explaining why the new law violated federal law. Along with Ron, we were able to build a grassroots effort in about 12 hours that included an e-mail blast from a San Diego state assemblyman and support from San Diego churches representing tens of thousands of residents.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted down the new law and in favor of churches. The Supervisors mentioned that this had become “a huge controversy, suddenly-out of the blue.” Ron Harper commented, “It was great to watch a victory come together ‘out of the blue’ in such a short time!”

Thank you for supporting our ministry so that we can quickly come to the aid of worthy causes like this one!  Although this case will never hit national news, the victory will help save millions upon millions of dollars for San Diego churches.

Preliminary Victory for Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship

Calvary_Chapel_Bible_FellowshipShortly after Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship (affectionately known as "The Barn”) was built in 1999, the County of Riverside, CA, covertly passed a ban on further expansion or establishment of churches in the Temecula Wine Country. After The Barn decided last year to expand its church facilities and build a small private country school for grades K-8, they learned of the County’s ban on churches. We have advised the County that the ban violates federal law and is unconstitutional.

Last week, we won a preliminary victory, as the Board of Supervisors in Riverside County, California, voted unanimously to begin considering an amendment to the existing zoning regulations that would allow churches and other religious organizations to move into the Temecula Wine Country! This does not assure churches the right to move into Wine Country just yet, but it does show a positive sign that the Board will begin working with us to correct the unlawful ordinances.

 

7 Year Marker: Advocates Gives Us a Reason to Celebrate!

Dear Partner, Looking back over 2012, we have been blessed to play a significant role in protecting our First Amendment right to share the Gospel, in combating hostility toward Christianity, and defending the will of voters. For example:

  • We have continued the fight to protect the right of churches to build and expand their ministry in the Temecula Valley Wine Country against politically powerful vintners.
  • We worked aggressively to defend students’ rights to express their religion in school and developed a booklet to educate parents, teachers, and students of their rights and warn them of the perils in California public schools (available on our website).
  • We continued to fight for the protection of traditional marriage through the defense of voter-backed Proposition 8 in California. Now, this case is at the Supreme Court, where the justices will decide whether to respect the will of voters.

But, this year is our 7 YEAR MARKER – we have been pursuing our goals for seven years! Now, because of the critical times in our culture, we must refine our goals and litigate with greater precision in order to preserve our liberty to share the Gospel. Here’s our strategy:

  1. Plan: We will aggressively increase our caseload with more tactical cases that are directly related and central to our purpose: Defending the first amendment right to spread the Christian Gospel.
  2. Pursue(a) We will pursue opportunities to challenge governmental hostility toward Christianity like the efforts to remove Christian symbols from public display; and (b) We will strategically continue to pursue cases that will challenge unlawful land use and building restrictions that are burdening and censoring churches.

You can help us right now to continue defending religious liberty and to pursue our strategy for 2013.  In order to litigate additional cases, we need to bring in $2,500 in new monthly donations by the New Year.  Please help us reach this goal by December 31st.  Whatever amount you can contribute on a monthly basis will greatly help us to take on new cases to preserve our liberty to share the Gospel.  Simply use the enclosed envelope and indicate your monthly gift pledge, or go online at www.faith-freedom.com/7-year-marker-press-on.

Thank you for supporting our mission! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Case Update:  Religious Land Use WIN for Washington, D.C. Church

Our client, the Fishermen of Man Church located in Washington, D.C., was recently faced with the potential of being designated a historic landmark by a local government agency, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). Though this may sound like a benefit to the church, this landmark designation would have placed burdensome restrictions on the church and its activities.

For example, the church had planned to make some much-needed improvements, including placing an attractive sign on the building to better indicate that it is, in fact, a church. Since it is located in the midst of a commercial district, this signage is a necessity to grow church membership. If it were called a landmark, the church would experience crippling delays and costs while the HPRB and local government carried out the landmark designation, and they would be highly restricted from carrying out their planned improvements.

In addition to these burdens, there is also a moral question surrounding the landmark designation.  In the past, the church location was used as a community movie theater, and – in a divisive time in our nation’s history – it was designated as a “whites only” movie theater.  For the congregation of the Fishermen of Man church, which is predominately African-American, this landmark designation was extremely offensive.

We represented the church at no cost and worked with the church’s local attorney in preparation for the hearing. We also sent a demand letter to the HPRB, explaining that the landmark designation they planned for the Fishermen of Man building would violate RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institution

alized Persons Act, which prevents government bodies from applying regulations to religious institutions that would place a substantial burden on religious land use or regulations that are inequitably applied against religious institutions.  The HPRB then realized the church’s rights under RLUIPA and decided against the landmark designation.  Victory for the church!

 This case represents the strategic opportunities we plan to pursue in the future used to ensure the spread of the Gospel.  There are several more churches in the D.C. area alone that are facing the threat of burdensome landmark designations that threaten their very existence.  In many cases, these regulations censor churches and unreasonably control a church’s daily operations causing many churches to flee to the suburbs. We want to defend these churches’ right to not just exist, but to continue to spread the Gospel of Christ in our Nation’s capital!

 

We ask that you consider pledging a monthly gift so that we can pursue more cases and victories like this one!

 

God bless you,

 

 

 

Jennifer Bursch Associate General Counsel

Wine Country Vintners to Church: “We don’t want your kind out here!”

Can churches and wineries coexist? That is the question at stake right now in the face of a Riverside County hearing in Temecula, CA. Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship ("The Barn") is gearing up to file a federal lawsuit against the County of Riverside in the event that the County continues its ban on churches in the Temecula Wine Country, an area that is being expanded from approximately 7,000 acres to over 18,990 acres. A public hearing will occur on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, over the fate of churches in this region. The hearing will position the Wine Country Vintner’s Association against the church congregation and many other Christians from the area.

Trying to be a good neighbor, Pastor Clark Van Wick met with a few vintners in an attempt to appease them, but was told, “We don’t want your kind out here.”

In 1999, the Barn received permission from the County to build a new church in Wine Country after a hotly contested public hearing process where the same vintners opposed the building of the church. However, shortly after this, the County quietly passed a new ordinance banning all churches from the Wine Country. The Barn was grandfathered-in and was the only existing church in the Wine Country at the time. Although the church could still meet in the Wine Country, it would never be able to expand its facilities any further because of the ban that was in place, and no other churches would be able to operate in the Wine Country.

The Barn just recently learned of the ban on churches when it sought to obtain a permit to expand its church facilities and to build a small private country school for grades K-8. Of course, the expansion of the facilities is now prohibited.

Under the current and future zoning ordinances, Wineries are allowed to have giant weddings, concerts and plays, but no new churches can assemble to worship. And the only existing church, the Barn, is prohibited from expanding. Robert Tyler, Advocates’ General Counsel, stated, “Although religious liberty is often exercised in the form of free speech, as in the incident surrounding Chick-fil-A, it is more often exercised in the form of believers assembling together for the common purpose of worshipping God, holding church services, and studying the Bible.” He continued, “We must defend the right to assemble against discriminatory zoning laws and land use regulations or else governmental officials will be able to zone out Christians whenever it is politically expedient.”

Christians in the area have become aware of this situation, and they have taken action! Local churches have submitted over 3,200 letters to the County asking to overturn the ban. For more information on reversing the ban on churches, including links to a television interview and newspaper articles, go to www.WineCountryFreedom.Com.

ACTION POINT

Hundreds of area Christians and church members are expected to attend the planning commission hearing. As a sign of thanks, the church will serve Chick-fil-A to all those who attend during the lunchtime break. If you can and are in the area, please join us and voice your support of churches in Wine Country!

Hearing details: August 22, 2012 9:00 AM Riverside County Planning Commission Hearing Temecula City Hall 41000 Main Street Temecula, CA

Is this Our America?

If we told you that a pastor had been arrested for holding regular Bible study meetings at his house, where in the world would you think this had occurred?  Would you believe that this happened in Arizona? More than a dozen Phoenix police officers and city officials raided the home of the pastor and arrested him, saying that he could not hold regular church meetings at his own house, because it is not in an area zoned for churches and he had violated building code laws.

Incredibly, this pastor was sentenced to:

  • 60 days in jail
  • 3 years probation
  • $12,180 fine

This occurred, and yet people are allowed to have several people over to their homes for regular poker nights or book club meetings, for example.

         Advocates stands for the right of individuals to study the Bible with others in their own homes.  That’s how the early church was started, after all – by groups of Christians gathering in one another’s homes and studying the word of God together.

ACTION POINT

Please pray for this man and his family.  We have worked on several cases involving city zoning boards, so we have a vested interest in stories like this one.  If you or anyone you know is facing a similar situation, please call us at (888) 588-6888.