Miss. legal settlement shelters women, children in need

Rescue mission now allowed to provide overnight stays
Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Attorney sound bite:  Joe Infranco

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — An Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney has secured a legal settlement on behalf of a non-profit organization that helps provide housing and treatment to single mothers struggling with addictions. The lawsuit concerned a Mississippi town’s unconstitutional zoning restrictions.

“City zoning restrictions should not be used to prevent religious organizations from providing real help to women and children in need,” said Dan Dalton of Dalton & Tomich PLC, a Michigan-based law firm that represents religious entities in land use and zoning disputes. “We pursued this case to protect a trusted Hattiesburg religious and charitable organization that provides critical resources needed for single mothers recovering from addiction. Federal law protects ministries like this from being targeted by zoning regulations.”

In 2005, Lighthouse Rescue Mission purchased a former elementary school building and renovated it into an overnight shelter. When the city refused to allow the ministry to house single women and children in the residentially zoned building overnight--a critical need for recovering addicts--the ministry applied to the city for a zoning change. The city’s planning commission and the city council rejected the initial application. After a second application, the city council approved a use permit for religious assembly but still prohibited the ministry from providing overnight stays.

Dalton, one of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, agreed to represent Lighthouse in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Mississippi. The lawsuit, Lighthouse Rescue Mission v. The City of Hattiesburg, argued that the city’s zoning restriction violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

In enacting RLUIPA, Congress stated, “Churches and synagogues cannot function without physical space adequate to their needs and consistent with their theological requirements. The right to build, buy, or rent such a space is an indispensable adjunct of the core First Amendment right to assemble for religious purposes.”

The new settlement allows the ministry to house single mothers and their children overnight and provide the resources needed to help them recover out of addiction and poverty. The city also agreed to allow the ministry to expand the use of its property and paid the ministry damages and attorneys’ fees.

“A city’s zoning restrictions shouldn’t single out ministries for discrimination and penalize them because of their religious viewpoint,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “The city has done the right thing in agreeing to respect the freedom of Lighthouse to fulfill its mission and help women and children in need.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
# # # | Ref. 28954