Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 16, 2020

Fed. Dist. Court in IL Rejects Church’s Lawsuit Challenging Town Zoning on Standing

This post was authored by Joseph Rose, Touro Law Center

Plaintiff, Word Seed Church (“the Church”), brought a claim against the Village of Homewood (“Homewood”) alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The Church challenged Homewood’s zoning ordinance as constitutionally vague and sought a preliminary injunction. The Church, seeking to purchase property in Homewood, alleged their ability to do so was restricted by Homewood’s zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance did not provide a place for the Church to meet as of right and the Church’s congregation met at the pastor’s home. Homewood is divided into four residential districts, two public land districts, four business districts, and two manufacturing districts. According to Homewood’s zoning ordinance, “places of worship are considered special uses in all districts.” Homewood argued that the Church did not have standing to bring the lawsuit because “it has not alleged an injury in fact.” At the time of the lawsuit, the Church had not yet applied for a special. Homewood relied on a Seventh Circuit equal protection case in which the Seventh Circuit held “speculative claims cannot constitute distinct and palpable injury for purposes of standing.” See Love Church v. City of Evanston, 896 F.2d 1083, 1086 (7th Cir. 1990). The Church argued the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) negated the holding in Love Church and argues RLUIPA only requires the intent to use the property to bring a claim. To refute Homewood’s claim that their claim lacked standing, the Church asserted it was under contract to purchase property in Homewood in summer of 2020. In addition, the Church claimed it suffered financial losses from attorney’s fees during negotiations before the seller of the property backed out.

The Court stated the closest that the Church came to establishing Homewood caused the injuries is that the Church cannot petition for a special use permit until it has a right of ownership in property pursuant to Homewood’s zoning ordinance. The Court said another problem with the Church’s claim for damages was the alleged injuries challenge third-party conduct, not Homewood’s zoning ordinance. In regard to the preliminary injunction, the court stated the Church needed to show they would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction. The Church alleged Homewood’s zoning ordinance violated their First Amendment right of free religious exercise. The Court stated the Church did not explain how the ordinance affects their religious exercise. Instead, the Church argued only that it would lose their assembly, ministry opportunities and membership if they do not have a location to worship that is not the pastor’s home. Because the Church did not meet the burden of establishing an irreparable injury, the Court did not grant a preliminary injunction. Additionally, because the alleged injury is not traceable to Homewood, and is instead caused by a third party, the Court determined the Church did not have standing to bring the claim and dismissed the claim without prejudice.

Word Seed Church v Village of Homewood, IL, 2020 WL 6719030 (ND IL. 11/16/2020).

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