Celebration Community Christian Reformed Church, a church plant in Muskegon, Mich., has filed suit against the city of Muskegon, citing the city’s violation of First Amendment rights and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) law.
RLUIPA is a federal law signed in 2000 to protect churches from discrimination in land-use cases involving tax-exempt religious institutions. This gives equal opportunity to occupy land without backlash from cities that may wish to fill the space with tax-paying entities.
Last November the church applied for a special-land-use permit for their purchased property, a former car dealership, at which time the city of Muskegon recommended approval.
However, the next month the city planning commission denied the application, justifying its ruling by citing the church would be exempt from property taxes. It denied the church a second time in January, stating the property would “reduce the tax rolls.”
Rev. Greg Stamm, the church’s pastor, stressed that a church plant needs a visible place. He said, “There is high value on land—a city is fine if a Home Depot wants to go in, but for a church, there is less value.”
The church is legally being directed by the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C.
As of April, the church was using the offices in their building. But the congregation cannot worship there until the case is decided.