Chicago outreach to Katrina victims wins 7th Circuit decision against city

ADF-allied attorney secures right protected by the Constitution for Christian ministry to use its property to aid those displaced by disaster
Thursday, December 31, 2009

CHICAGO — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued an order Wednesday rendering a favorable decision to a Christian ministry that was blocked by the city of Chicago from using its property to help displaced Hurricane Katrina victims. ADF-allied attorney John Mauck represented the outreach in the lawsuit against the city and secured a ruling to claim its right protected by the U.S. Constitution to use its property, which has served as a community center for more than 80 years, for ministry purposes. ADF has provided funding for the case.

“It is unconstitutional to use city zoning restrictions to shut down existing religious community services just because the city wants to use a building for other purposes,” said Mauck, with the Chicago firm of Mauck & Baker, LLC. “We are pleased that the 7th Circuit has recognized that federal law protects ministries from being targeted by zoning regulations and had sharply rebuked the abuses of the city council member responsible and some city officials.”

The city of Chicago originally sued World Outreach Conference Center to shut its outreach ministry and community center down--even though its building has operated as a community center since 1926. The city also refused to allow WOCC to house people displaced and made homeless by Hurricane Katrina, despite the fact that the request came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Eventually, Chicago officials issued a permit for part of the ministry’s property and dismissed their lawsuit against the outreach.

Subsequently, the ministry filed the lawsuit World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago, using the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act to contest the city’s refusal to fully recognize the property for its ministry’s purposes. In response to the lawsuit, the city challenged the constitutionality of this act, known as RLUIPA, which is a federal law that protects churches against such treatment. As a result, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a brief in defense of the law.

“The numerous roadblocks set up by the city in this unnecessary legal process have now been set aside,” said Mauck. “Finally, this indispensible ministry can continue to serve the community by caring for the homeless, as it has for so many years. We thank ADF for its invaluable support in this litigation.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.