Bob Unruh tells the sob story in a Nov. 24 WorldNetDaily article:
The situation didn’t seem that alarming. A Christian school needed to move to more economic, and yet bigger, facilities.
As such schools usually are, the Livingston Christian School in Genoa Township, Michigan, was on a tight budget, but it located a facility available at the nearby Brighton Church of the Nazarene, and made plans for the move.
The local planning commission approved the plan, the community supported it, and even experts summoned by the township endorsed the strategy.
Then the town council rejected the application, a decision that prompted a court case that now is pending before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The brief there, submitted by First Liberty, warns that the rejection is a violation of federal law because it threatens the very existence of the religious outreach.
This being a Bob Unruh article, it goes without saying he's not telling the full story. Indeed, as real news outlets have reported, the town's rejection of the special use permit has been upheld in lower courts because, despite its current claims, the school had an option to use another location and has acted upon it.
But Unruh also plays up how the religious school's attorneys, First Liberty, are suing the township under a federal law:
“The government is refusing to allow a Christian school to move into a building on church property or, for that matter, anywhere else in town,” Hiram Sasser, deputy chief counsel for First Liberty Institute, said. “That’s wrong. Federal law expressly prohibits the government using zoning laws to keep religious institutions out of their town.”
At the initial court hearing stage, a judge said the school’s religious liberty had not been “substantially burdened” by the town’s decision, so First Liberty advanced the fight to the appellate level, arguing that under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the township was essentially terminating the school’s ability to operate as a religious ministry.
The U.S. Department of Justice says that law is to “protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.”
“First Liberty has won multiple cases using RLUIPA,” said Sasser. “We know this law well. In fact, we won a landmark case, Opulent Life Church v. Holly Springs, in the 5th Federal Circuit Court when a town used zoning regulations against a religious institution. We lost at the district court, but won at the federal appeals court. We hope for the same outcome in this important case.”
Just a month earlier, however, WND was denouncing the RLUIPA. Why? It was being invoked for the benefit of non-Christians.
In an Oct. 2 article, WND Muslim-basher Leo Hohmann complained that a different township in Michigan agreed to pay $1.7 million to a Muslim group after blocking its planned construction of a school. Hohmann is much more negative about use of RLUIPA than Unruh is:
The tentative settlement agreed to by Pittsfield Township would be one of the largest cash payouts ever by a U.S. municipality to a mosque. The deal could send shock waves throughout the nation among communities fighting to keep large mosques and madrasas out of residential areas.
The Pittsfield case, by the sheer amount of the payout, could have a chilling effect on any city or town considering a mosque location or expansion, say legal experts. Many such legal battles are in process, including a major one in nearby Sterling Heights, Michigan, reported recently by WND.
“It’s not surprising,” said Karen Lugo, a constitutional law attorney with expertise in the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal statute under which the Michigan Muslims claimed discrimination.
Pittsfield Township, a community just outside of Ann Arbor, denied the construction permit saying the project would be incompatible with the surrounding residential zoning and would cause undue traffic and congestion.
But the owner of the property, a Shariah-compliant Ann Arbor mosque backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations or CAIR, filed suit against Pittsfield Township in 2012.
The U.S. Justice Department joined the case last year on the side of the mosque, claiming Pittsfield was violating RLUIPA, a law passed by Congress in 2000 that prohibits local governments from imposing zoning regulations that “substantially burden” religious rights “unless there is a compelling government interest.”
The percentage of federal RLUIPA investigations involving mosques or Islamic schools has risen from 15 percent in the 2000 to August 2010 period to 38 percent during the September 2010 to present period, according to a DOJ report posted on July 27.
The Pittsfield Township settlement, while one of the largest ever won by a mosque against a municipality in America, is not the only large settlement in recent years. Some have included not only cash but free land, Lugo said.
It's the very same law. While WND trashes it when being used on behalf of Muslims, it cheerleads the law's use on behalf of Christians. Muslims' religious rights should always be burdened, in WND's view, while those of Christians should never be.
There's no other difference.