Liberty Institute sues the city for violation of Texas’ religious freedom laws
Today’s edition of Why local governments can be the absolute worst takes place in my home breaks. If you haven’t had your coffee yet, this story is enough to get your blood pumping.
Two churches nestled in what used to be one of Houston’s roughest neighborhoods are fighting back against the city. The Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center was established in the fifth ward in 1965 by Bishop Roy Lee Kossie. A few years later, Pastor Quinton Smith began pastoring at the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, also in the fifth ward. Both churches have grown and have had a positive impact on their community in each year since their establishment. Building a youth ministry center, a church-run food bank, and creating outreach programs for gang members, drug addicts, and alcoholics, the churches continue their work to transform the fifth ward.
“When we moved in to this area, it was considered the highest crime rate area in the city of Houston. People shot first and asked questions later. But we loved these people. We loved this community. We knew this was exactly where we needed to be,” said Kossie.
The fifth ward is located just outside of downtown. Property values in the area have skyrocketed and continue to climb. The City of Houston offered to purchase the churches. When the churches refused, the city came back with threats of using eminent domain to acquire the property as part of an urban development plan.
The Liberty Institute, an organization that has over forty years of experience fighting for religious freedom jumped in to help. Monday, the Liberty Institute filed suit against the City of Houston.
On August 4, 2015, Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston, asserting that the city is violating Texas’ religious freedom law, including the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They note that the churches have served as pillars in the Fifth Ward’s spiritual and social community for decades and that the City’s actions would force the churches out of the community they have served for over half a century.
Liberty Institute Deputy Chief Counsel Hiram Sasser says, “These churches have served this community for decades. They’ve held the neighborhood together through a lot of hard times. It’s tragic that the City of Houston wants to take the churches’ property away and give it to someone else, just so they can make money. The government cannot take a church’s property and give it to some other business in violation of the law. These churches, their congregations, and this neighborhood are not for sale.”
The suit argues, “HHA’s exercise of eminent domain to condemn the Churches’ properties violates their rights as defined by The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Texas Constitution. The HHA’s looming condemnation of the Churches’ properties would substantially burden their free exercise of religion. The HHA cannot justify this substantial burden: it lacks a compelling government interest and its plan is not narrowly tailored. Furthermore, the threatened takings are improper as the properties are not intended for “public use” as required by Article 1, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution.”
Neither church is planning to walk away without a fight.
“We’ve been here for years. We’ve watched the children grow up. We’ve been a safe place for them when things are bad at home. If the city makes us leave the Fifth Ward, what will happen to the children? We just want the City to leave us alone so we can keep helping these kids,” said Pastor Smith.
Bishop Kossie added, “This is our home. This is where the Lord called us to serve and this is where we want to stay. We aren’t giving up without a fight.”
If ever there was an example of government at its absolute worst, this is certainly it.
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