Supreme Court Asked to Give Cities More Power to Restrict Churches

Washington, D.C. – A recent Ninth Circuit decision rebuking a Bay Area city for using zoning laws to stifle church growth has been appealed by the city to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the High Court decides to hear the case, it is expected to have wide-ranging implications for houses of worship across the nation.
In its Petition for Certiorari, the City of San Leandro is seeking sweeping power to deny religious assembly zoning applications and undo a federal law that has been relied on by countless churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship for more than a decade. Faith Fellowship Worship Center, which won the Ninth Circuit ruling, is represented by Pacific Justice Institute.

The case dates back more than five years, when the church sought to alleviate severe overcrowding by buying and moving to an abandoned software company site—the only location in San Leandro large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. The church complied with city directives to request changes to the zoning of the property, but the city later denied the requests and blocked the move—even though the building was already zoned for large-scale events such as concerts and wrestling matches.

This spring, the Ninth Circuit sided with the church, noting that instead of allowing the free marketplace to embrace the church, the city actively intervened to restrict its growth. The evidence considered by the court included admissions by city officials of inadequate space for large churches in the city, and suggestions by city leaders that the church did not belong in a “prime” property but instead should buy a mobile home park and evict the residents, buy a property resembling a junkyard, or pay inflated prices for properties that were not being offered for sale.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, “No religious group should have to endure what Faith Fellowship has experienced the last several years. San Leandro’s actions toward this faith community have been both disgraceful and illegal. The Ninth Circuit saw exactly what was happening and rightly ruled in the church’s favor. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will either deny review or affirm this decision, and the city will finally abandon its crusade against this church.”