Until recently, Holly Springs, Miss.'s claim to fame was Graceland Too, Paul MacLeod's home-turned-Elvis-museum where you can view memorabilia and learn obscure Elvis facts 24/7.
Now, Holly Springs has the unusual distinction of being an anti-church city in the Bible Belt. And soon, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals could consider whether a city zoning ordinance that applies a more-restrictive set of requirements to churches seeking zoning approval violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the U.S. Constitution.
Holly Springs Zoning Ordinance 10.8 requires churches seeking zoning approval to attain the support of a super-majority of nearby property owners. The plaintiffs in the case -- Telsa DeBerry and the Opulent Life Church -- claim that the zoning ordinance ensures that churches face a series of barriers to zoning approval that effectively prevents the opening of new churches in Holly Springs.
Under the zoning ordinance, churches are subject to nine additional requirements that no other class of commercial business or institution must satisfy for a B-3 zoning permit. The Opulent Life Church asserts that the additional requirements violate RLUIPA, which prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against religious assemblies or institutions by treating them "on less than equal terms with" nonreligious assemblies or institutions.
The Opulent Life Church -- which leased property on the Holly Springs town square and sought approval from the city's Planning Commission to relocate to the new space -- filed a complaint seeking a declaration that Zoning Ordinance Section 10.8 is unlawful, unconstitutional, and unenforceable, and a permanent injunction against its further enforcement.
A district judge in Mississippi denied the injunction request, finding that the church group didn't meet its capacity of 20 to 25 people at its current facility, so the church was "not currently being deprived of the right to freely exercise their religion," according to a press release.
What do you think? If the Opulent Life Church has already leased the space and is not being allowed to move in, is the irreparable harm of lost rents enough to trigger injunctive relief? More importantly, will a district court or the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately overturn Holly Spring Zoning Ordinance 10.8?
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- Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (U.S. Courts)