Christian Church Forced to Move from California Town for ‘Not Fitting In’
The city of Salinas to force out church for not attracting tourists
An evangelical Christian church in the city of Salinas, California, is being forced to sell its property because it doesn't fit in the new look of the town.
The New Harvest Christian Fellowship purchased the building in 2018 due to its growing congregation.
But a new city ordinance prohibits houses of worship from occupying the first floor of downtown buildings, according to The Christian Post.
A lawsuit was filed by the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) on behalf of the church, arguing the denial of New Harvest’s proposed use “treat New Harvest on less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies and substantially burden religious exercise, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).”
But the city of Salinas, won the case after a northern California U.S. District Court ruled in their favor.
The city declared churches generate limited interest, and fail to draw tourists, and do not fit in with the city's goals.
The purpose of its land use ordinance is “to stimulate commercial activity within the City’s downtown, which had been in a state of decline, and to establish a pedestrian-friendly, active and vibrant Main Street," according to the city.
The court noted the weekly schedule of activities of the New Harvest includes:
“A Sunday morning worship service (including a worship band) and programs for children and teens/tweens; a Tuesday evening worship service, ‘Fun Club’ for children ages 3-4, and boys’ ministries (which alternate weekly between two different age groups); a Thursday evening worship band rehearsal; a Friday evening prayer meeting; and a women’s Bible study on some Saturday mornings.”
But the Court’s description of the church’s program could be easily defined as “active and vibrant.”
However, Federal magistrate judge Susan Van Keulen ruled the city of Salinas didn't violate RLUIPA , arguing the City’s zoning restrictions were not “substantial burden” on the of New Harvest's religious exercises.
PJI has appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit in response to the ruling, declaring it is “optimistic that a different result will be reached upon review by a higher court,” since the church is banned from gathering, the city is allowing other places like live entertainment venues to continue to operate.
“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,” said PJI President Brad Dacus.
The lead attorney in the case, PJI Chief Counsel Kevin Snider, added:
“Salinas deems churches as less deserving of equal treatment under the law than the live children’s theatre, two cinemas, and event centers that share the city’s downtown corridor with New Harvest Fellowship."