A church is suing a Maryland city over a zoning regulation that bans them from holding worship services at a downtown coffee shop they own unless they apply for a special waiver the church believes is too expensive and uncertain.
Redemption Community Church, which oversees a non-profit coffee shop called Ragamuffins Coffee House, is suing the city of Laurel over a zoning law that requires it to undergo what it calls a “costly” and “uncertain” special exception, even while non-religious assemblies do not have to, according to the lawsuit.
The parameters of the exception include a nonrefundable $2,000 filing fee, the hiring of an engineer to draft an “Existing Conditions Site Plan” and a “Proposed Site Plan,” and a detailed application that the City Board of Appeals can reject.
Known as Redemption Community Church v. City of Laurel, the lawsuit was filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
Redemption Community is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that often handles religious liberty litigation.
ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement released last Friday that the city of Laurel’s zoning regulation was “discriminatory.”
“The government can’t discriminate against churches simply because they are religious,” said Holcomb. “Despite making every effort to work with the city to comply with its burdensome zoning changes, Redemption Community Church is now being told to either stop holding worship services or pay severe fines.”
Originally called Covenant Presbyterian Church, Redemption Community decided to move to the downtown Laurel area and set up a non-profit coffee shop to minister to the poor.
“Churches can be fortresses,” explained the Reverend Jeremy Tuinstra, head of the church, in a 2017 interview with The Baltimore Sun. “I would stand up and preach about loving our neighbors and I didn’t know mine.”
In March 2015, Laurel’s Planning Commission voted to grant Redemption Community a parking waiver to allow for its creation of a non-profit coffee shop and worship space.
The Ragamuffins Coffee House was located in the “Commercial Village Zone” of Laurel and needed a waiver in response to a code regulation on number of spaces.
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Source: Christian Post