Wednesday, February 01, 2023

4th Circuit: Church Loses Challenges to Zoning Restrictions

In Alive Church of the Nazarene, Inc. v. Prince William County, Virginia, (4th Cir., Jan. 31, 2023), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a church's challenges to zoning restrictions that prevented it from using property it purchased for religious services. The church purchased 17 acres of land zoned for agricultural use.  The church originally planned to comply with the agricultural use requirements by making non-alcoholic cider from fruit trees on the property. It would then be classified as a farm winery or limited-license brewery, could build any buildings it wished on the property and could hold events in them. However, the church discovered that in order to qualify, it also was required to obtain a license from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. It concluded that doing this would violate its religious beliefs against the promotion of alcohol. Its only other route was to comply with provisions of a Special Use Permit which required construction that it could not afford. The court rejected the church's equal terms, non-discrimination and substantial burden challenges under RLUIPA, as well as its constitutional Equal Protection, Free Exercise and Peaceable Assembly challenges to the restrictions imposed on it. Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.