‘Nothing in the permit limits the wing’s use to Sunday school classes and Wednesday night Bible studies. The wing is being used for what it was built for…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) The Pacific Justice Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Christian church and school against Clackamas County, a suburb of Portland, for “misusing its power to suppress religious exercise.”
Since 2019, Faith on Hill Church allows Skopos Christian School to use an “education wing” in the building.
Clackamas County previously approved that part of the building “for purposes of Christian education,” but now the county argues that the school’s use of the education wing amounts to a “change of use” and requires a new operating permit, PJI reported.
Skopos, a private Christian school with fewer than 30 students, lost its prior building and does not have options other than Faith on Hill Church.
Clackamas County has sent letters insisting that Faith on Hill Church file for a new operating permit. Meanwhile, the county has issued increasing fines against the church.
After negotiations between the church and the county fell through and fines became overbearing, PJI filed the lawsuit on Dec. 31 in Portland’s federal court, alleging a violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
“Essentially, the county has been fining the church for letting Skopos use its wing in a manner consistent with the terms of the church’s permit,” said Ray Hacke, PJI’s Oregon-based attorney.
“Nothing in the permit limits the wing’s use to Sunday school classes and Wednesday night Bible studies,” Hacke said. “The wing is being used for what it was built for.”
RLUIPA prevents local governments from “substantially burdening the free exercise of religion absent a compelling interest that makes it necessary,” PJI reported.
PJI said that public schools regularly allow groups to use their buildings without having to apply for new permits.
“RLUIPA favors broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Constitution,” PJI President Brad Dacus said. “Clackamas County is needlessly trying to break up a mutually beneficial partnership between Faith on Hill and Skopos and trampling on religious freedom in the process.”