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Million Dollar Religious Discrimination Suit Filed Against Borough of Pemberton

by Staff
July 23, 2010
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PEMBERTON, N.J., (christiansunite.com) -- On July 15, the Apostolic Church of Deliverance (ACD) filed suit against the Borough of Pemberton for violating a Federal land use law. The Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) provides that no government shall impose a land use regulation that totally excludes or unreasonably limits religious assemblies from a jurisdiction. Pemberton's current zoning code prohibits new churches throughout the Borough, and where non-religious assembly uses are allowed as of right, religious organizations must prove they deserve a zoning variance - a violation of RLUIPA and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. ACD filed suit in the United States District Court of New Jersey.

ACD applied for a zoning variance over six months ago, and the less than 100-member congregation has incurred more than $40,000 in expenses in order to meet Pemberton's application requirements. Now, although Pemberton officials have clearly indicated an intention to deny the church's application, the Borough continues to withhold publication of a formal zoning decision.

Pemberton May Be Pressuring Church to Rent From the Borough

While Pemberton has withheld from ACD the right to use its leased property, located at 207 Hanover Street, Pemberton officials instead suggested the church explore renting the Pemberton Borough Elementary School.

"Imagine a society where you are told exactly which apartment to rent: you want choices to rent wherever apartments are available, but the government restricts you to a place in the back alley," said the church's attorney, John Mauck, partner at Mauck & Baker.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the Borough of Pemberton is predominantly white (78 percent). While 13 percent of the population is African-American, the congregation of the Apostolic Church of Deliverance is predominantly black, according to church pastor Rev. Richard Goodwin.

"We are a predominately African-American church and we hope to honor Jesus by serving this entire community with God's love," Goodwin said. "In turn, we expect the Pemberton leadership to honor the U.S. Constitution and Federal law that prevent religious discrimination. We are not asking for special rights, just the right to worship the Messiah."

"This feels like the 1960s when minorities were told to sit on the back of the bus," said Mauck. "Municipal officials obligated a church to spend more than $40,000, almost all their money, on a zoning procedure that would have cost about $10,000 in many communities. In the meantime, they suggested another property which could cost another $40,000 or more just to get permission to lease. The crowning insult has been a six-month wait with no decision on the original application. Why such hostility?"

Large Damage Claim Explained

ACD is seeking in excess of $1 million in compensatory damages from Pemberton for violation of its religious freedom and in excess of $1 million in punitive damages from Borough officials for conspiracy to violate their religious and other civil rights.

"I've been handling these cases for many years and rarely seen such strong evidence of bad faith by a municipality and its officials. It's hard to see how the Borough thought it could get away with enforcing such an abusive and restrictive code," said Mauck. "Thankfully, there are still Americans, such as members of ACD's congregation, who will fight to protect their fundamental liberties and, by example, will help preserve those liberties for all of us. We only regret that some of the cost of rectifying the municipal abuses may fall upon taxpayers who never supported irresponsible government."

A copy of the suit is available upon request by contacting Tom Ciesielka at tc@tcpr.net.

For inquiries on the suit, please contact John Mauck at (312) 853-8709.

About Mauck & Baker
Mauck & Baker LLC is a Chicago-based law firm established in 2001. The firm is nationally known for representing churches and religious institutions. Mauck & Baker has represented religious organizations in real estate transactions, zoning applications, out-of-court settlements, litigation of zoning disputes, litigation of religious liberties and church splits. For more information, visit mauckbaker.com.

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