New Law Helps Church Gain Storefront Site

A Michigan church has won the right to use a storefront location in a business district after it sued under a new federal law. The Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced in late December that a district judge had approved a consent agreement between Haven Shores Community Church (which Becket represented) and the city of Grand Haven, Michigan.

The city acknowledged in the agreement that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, signed into law by President Clinton on September 22, applied to the case (CT, Sept. 4, 2000, p. 25). "The defendants further acknowledge that a decision under the City of Grand Haven Zoning Ordinance, as it is currently written, that prohibited a church or other religious use in the B-1 Zoning District would not survive review under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, assuming its validity," the agreement states.

Kevin J. Hasson, president of the Becket Fund, hailed the settlement of the case, which he called the "first successful lawsuit" under the new federal law.

"Grand Haven officials did the right thing in settling the suit, and we commend them for it," Hasson said in a statement. "This case is a wake-up call for other communities that assume they have nearly unlimited latitude in using zoning laws to severely restrict churches and other religious organizations."

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