New Harvest Christian Fellowship bought a building on Main Street in Salinas, California, to accommodate its expansion after renting space for 25 years. But apparently the church’s presence cramped the city’s style.
A city ordinance prohibits worship services on a three-block area of downtown Salinas. Church and other religious assemblies are restricted to the building’s second floor. The first floor must house retail space. This restriction didn’t work for the church, so the church filed a lawsuit. The issue at court was whether the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act prohibits the city’s actions. A federal judge ruled that it does not.
From New Harvest Christian Fellowship legal counsel, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) (emphasis added):
On May 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Van Keulen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a surprising decision siding with the city. The court determined that churches generate limited interest, do not draw tourists, and therefore detract from the city’s goals of vibrancy. The court further believed a city is justified in promoting a “street of fun” that excludes churches at the same time it allows even larger concert and entertainment venues. PJI pointed out that the city’s insistence that it must have only fun, tourist-friendly, and tax-generating entities downtown was undermined by its allowance of nursing homes and post offices. The court waved off this discrepancy.
“This continues to be one of the most striking examples of unequal treatment of a church in the land use context that we have seen in the past 20 years,” PJI president Brad Dacus said. “We have appealed this case to the Ninth Circuit, and we are optimistic that a different result will be reached upon review by a higher court.”